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Locally grown foods a hot trend nationwide

Again this past year, locally produced foods was one of the hottest nationwide trends in foods, one of which is farm friendly or local foods. Indeed, this is good news that can have a positive impact on farmers, consumers and even our rural communities.

Ken Meter, an economist with a long history of working on rural economic issues, suggests that local foods may be a more fruitful economic model for rural communities to pursue. The traditional methods of economic development often bring jobs, but the local food model can have a multiplier effect with our health by increasing the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. Improved access to these nutritious foods will help curb the spiraling medical costs associated with our national propensity towards obesity.

Farm-friendly or local foods are just as they sound, foods that are found closer to the farm, often on the farm, but also at farmers markets, local CSA's (community supported agriculture), and in local family-owned grocery stores.

The vast majority of these farms often use different terms to describe their production methods. Common terms are homestead, organic, natural, sustainably grown, free-range and grass-fed, air-cooled poultry, grown from heirloom seeds or produced with respect for the land, animals, and workers. Regardless of the terminology, much of the food is produced without pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones.

Is this a fad or something more permanent? It seems these production methods are here to stay, if you believe the statistical trends. Sales from food produced using these principals have grown 20 percent per year over the past decade and now reach nearly $11 billion nationwide.

Research shows that nearly half of consumers purchased organic foods within the past six months with fruits and vegetables heading up the largest category, but with an increasing large proportion coming from the dairy case. Meat and poultry also appear to have the next most potential because consumers are growing increasingly concerned about BSE, E coli and the presence of growth hormones and antibiotics in their meat.

So what can you do? The first thing is to start thinking "local". Granted, during much of the year, seasonal crops such as fruit and vegetables may not be available, but dairy and other livestock products should be available year around.

To help consumers, farmers, and local grocers connect, the University of Minnesota Northwest Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnership has made it easy for you. They have created a website called Local Foods Partnership ( to have everyone become connected. The website lists producers, processors, and farmer's markets near you. You can search the website to find a grower near you or you can search for a specific product to see who produces it.

So the next time you're in the grocery store, take a moment to stop and think about where the food is grown. Can you find it locally or grow it yourself? For the vast majority of food items, I think that answer is yes. When you are in the store, ask your local grower is they are willing to provide locally grown food. In my experience, most growers are happy to provide what their customers request. Indeed, this creates is a clear "win-win" situation because it keeps those food dollars in our local communities and provides fresher, tastier, healthier food for you and your family. Now is the time to begin!

If you would like to learn more about local foods, you are invited to attend Congressman Peterson's "Home Grown Economy 2010 - Equipping You to Build Community Based Food Systems". This event will be held on Tuesday, February 16th in the Bede Ballroom in the Upper Level of the Student Center at the University of Minnesota, Crookston.

For more information, contact me at 800-450-2465, if email is your thing, contact me at Source: Natural Marketing Institute 2005 and Sara Klawitter, intern at NW Partnership.