Creating distribution networks for locally grown, raised foods

CHICAGO (May 31, 2010 - Crain's)—Packing, driving, distributing. Food is the sexy part of the local farm system, all those luscious tomatoes and juicy berries. But without a fast, efficient way to get the goods from farm to buyer, there's little chance of growing a true local-foods economy.

That's why Illinois, spurred in part by the Local Food, Farms and Jobs Act signed by Gov. Pat Quinn last year, has seen a surge of interest in creating distribution networks for locally grown and raised foods.

Several groups have grants to study networks in other states and to assess collaborative ideas like the creation of a central packhouse, where local growers would send fresh fruits and vegetables for washing, prepping and packaging.

A few companies have rolled out their own initiatives. Chicago-based Goodness Greeness, for instance, which says it's the largest privately held organic distributor in the country, has committed to buying and distributing the harvest from about two dozen farms with 500 acres under cultivation within 500 miles of Chicago. That's twice what it handled in 2009, which could double its local-foods business to about 25% of sales.

"With 'local,' 250 miles is what we think of as the sweet spot, but we're willing to go 500 miles and call that 'regional,' " President Bob Scaman says. "We've always been organic, but our end consumers have had a pent-up demand for local, so we've spent a number of years looking at ways to increase that availability."

Global food distributors like Sysco Corp., of Houston, are getting in on the act, too, in Illinois and nationwide, adding local foods in response to customer demand.

Even specialty distributors like Bensenville's Fortune Fish Co. have stepped up. Fortune, which specializes in seafood, in April added deliveries of greens, mushrooms and other produce from about 10 local growers, a number that should triple in peak season.

"Without an established distribution network, the supply is somewhat limited to product from growers who have the time and equipment to transport their goods," says Stuart Meltzer, category manager for the new program, called Fortune Farm Direct. "Expanding the local-food movement to feed the majority of Illinois will require finding more ways to bring product into the cities."


North Carolina's Smoky Mountain News has similar article on their "Buy Haywood" project, linking 20 local farmers with 20 local chefs to use 20 local products: Hard Row to Hoe


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