by Alex Gyori
It is one of the stated goals of Brattleboro Food Co-op to support local food production. The Ends Policy begins with, “The BFC exists to meet its shareholders collective needs for: …Reasonably priced food and products with an emphasis on healthy, locally grown, organic, and fairly traded goods…” And farther on it affirms that BFC wants to do its part in ensuring “a sustainable local economy.” In the past year, BFC has continued to make significant progress in actualizing these objectives.
Let’s start with a look at how we define the local area. For reporting purposes, the geographic guidelines, in alignment with how many other food co-ops determine their local market area, include all of Vermont plus a radius of 100 miles around the Co-op. The following chart shows that BFC purchases products and services from over 400 entities. There surely is much economic activity going on around us!
Important reminder: in Vermont there is a legal definition of local. Any product labeled local must originate within a 30-mile radius around the town plus anywhere within the state of Vermont. BFC complies with this rule in product descriptions on the shelves, but for strategic and planning purposes it is more useful to elevate the definition to a more regional focus.
A somewhat invisible yet highly impactful result of the Co-op’s decision to strengthen the local economy is the cost in time and money to do so. During the intense growing season it is a complex and time-consuming task to manage the scores of small suppliers to make sure the deliveries are timely and neither too much nor too little. Our accounting department processes many more checks each week during this time as well. The stepped up activity ultimately boosts retail prices somewhat, but it is worth the price to enhance our regional food security.
The next graph shows last year’s substantial increase in local purchases by Co-op shoppers—a result of increased availability of products and the upward trend in shoppers and shopping volume.
The remaining graph depicts the expansion in relative sales volume as a percent of sales, an indication that shoppers are choosing local products more often.
Keeping these last statistics moving up, however, will be challenging. In speaking with several of our growers about how to increase production to meet BFC shoppers’ growing desire for more local products, the response has tended to be, “If we had more capital and more cooperation from the weather we could produce more.” And of course there are other factors, such as arable land and labor.
At a September national meeting of the National Cooperative Grocers (NCG) in Seattle, a panel of professionals spoke in sobering tones of the potential impact on food co-ops of big money currently pouring into the natural foods market. Whole crops and entire production runs could be cornered by aggressive companies. In fact, small farms and local producers are not immune to this threat, as some have already been approached in the past few years by multinational companies.
While not ignoring this unwelcome possibility, food co-ops in New England continue to make significant gains in helping to build a thriving local economy. In 2013 total sales volume among the co-ops belonging to the Neighboring Food Co-op Association including Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, was $255 million. Extrapolating from a 2007 survey in which 20% of sales derived from local products, the proportion today, based on the 2013 sales number, could be as much as $50 million!
Building our local economy is vitally important, and the big picture described above suggests the substantial progress being made. Yet it is on a daily basis that Co-op shoppers create the future. Choices made today safeguard an enduring supply of healthy food and enhance regional food security. Thank you so much for your commitment to a sustainable community.