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Co-ops keep things local

My View • Smaller groceries maintain close ties with their growers
by: COURTESY OF FOOD FRONT, Dylan Gillis, Food Front’s produce manager, stocks local green beans at the cooperative grocery. Another Food Front employee says the store’s size and philosophy help forge good relationships with local growers.

Most grocery stores today are promoting themselves as “local.” But how much of this is marketing and how much of it is authentic? As the Tribune’s article (Stores snub local growers, Aug. 24) points out, Portland food shoppers are having a difficult time finding local produce at chain grocery stores — even when local produce such as beans are in season right here in our hometown. Well, you can find local beans at Food Front Cooperative Grocery in Northwest Portland. In fact, on the day Peter Korn’s article was published, we had Romano, Green and French Fillet, plus yellow wax beans from three different local growers: Gee Creek Farm, Mustard Seed Farms and Walnut Hill Farm. To Food Front and other neighborhood food co-ops, “local” is not just about geography. It’s about buying directly from a multitude of farmers who deliver right to our door. Our buying philosophy is not about getting the lowest price possible; rather, it’s about returning as much money as we can to our growers. That way, they can continue to make a living — keeping the land in crops. This philosophy and partnership also ensure that our customers have a ready supply of fresh, healthy food. Buying direct from small growers who handpick their produce means fresher, riper fruits and vegetables and allows us to carry special and heirloom varieties. For large grocery stores, this is a challenge. Even New Seasons — which has done a great deal to advance the idea and practice of buying local — acknowledges that it is challenged by working with very small growers. As the article points out, “Between the seven New Seasons stores, (produce merchandiser and local buyer for New Seasons) Chris Harris said, he needs about 150 25-pound cases a week of green beans. Harris said he doesn’t know of anybody locally who has enough handpicked green beans to supply New Seasons right now. Which has forced him to turn to a California supplier for green beans this week.” But if you dig just a little, you’ll find some grocery stores are more local than others. If you want to support local farmers, remember your neighborhood, locally owned co-ops like People’s Food Co-op, Alberta Cooperative Grocery and Food Front. Sometimes it’s a lot more work to find a local source, and yes, sometimes supplies are variable. It often costs Food Front more to do business this way. We even buy from sustainably minded farmers who haven’t yet received their organic certification. Why? Because we are small and flexible enough to work with them, and because it’s part of our mission: to provide healthy, fresh food for people, and to do our part in creating a sustainable regional food system. Food Front was founded in 1972 and celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. So while we’re glad that larger chain stores are getting hip to being local, we were local long before being local was the latest trend. Tom Mattox is the community outreach and marketing director for Food Front Cooperative Grocery, 2375 N.W. Thurman St.