Local Groceries

What does local food mean?

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The way we look at it, local is about more than just distance. Local means knowing where our food comes from and what practices and processes were used along the way. It means paying farmers fairly to support their responsible farming and business practices. Local means growing the region’s economy and actively participating in the community. It means restoring the connection between farmer and consumer. We call this being Positively Local.

Want to participate in the local food movement? See which groceries carry Five Acre Foods products near you.

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The Balance Between Efficient Supply Chains and Resilient Supply Chains

Apples grow abundantly in many parts of the United States. It turns out, the best spot in the US for apple growth may be the Pacific Northwest where there are relatively low humidity and plenty of irrigation.

However, we all want to see apple farms continue to survive on the East Coast and elsewhere outside the Pacific Northwest. East Coast apple farms produce delicious fruit, collectively employ thousands of people, and keep us closer to our food sources and supplies. If consumers exclusively bought apples from the northwest corner of the country where they grow most efficiently (California might take issue here) — and therefore cost the least — consumers would also be supporting divestment in local economies, reduced diversification of resources, and increased risk in supply shock like we’ve just been through. Clearly, the word efficient needs to be re-examined.

Resiliency, in contrast, would maintain apples as regionally important – California, Pacific Northwest, Michigan and Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Maine, Virginia – to name but a few. It invests in the diversification of food sources, in local economies, in open land, and in good food. Resiliency is better for all that consumers value, including valuing how tasty the fruit is on their plate. It’s not really that much more expensive, either.

Do we want apple farms to remain on the East Coast? If we only let the price on the shelf determine our answer — and we erroneously think that “cost” is the same as the price of the end-product — very soon we will have no local apples. None. Just ask dairy farmers if this is overblown rhetoric. It’s not

So, what to do? If you are a processor, contract locally and let your customers know. If you are brand, ask your processor for local apples. If you are A grocery store or supermarket, make sure local is in your selection. If you are an end consumer, look for local. Apple season is coming. Wherever you shop, ask for local apples. Buy local apples.

The Role of Local Food

The decimation of local food and farms is a conundrum that existed before the current crisis. Society has said over and over it wants local food and farms, yet our current “efficient” outcome ignores these wishes.

How? Efficient got twisted to mean the lowest dollar cost, when it really means “perfectly valued.” The difference is subtle but crucial in understanding the Local food opportunity. The word “dollar” is just one, not the only, measure of what food buyers value.

As discussed in my earlier posts, the crisis has exposed the weaknesses of the just-in-time, heavily consolidated distribution system. Although we will and should always have a global economy, the crisis has exposed the weaknesses of over-dependence on “efficiency” when it is measured solely as that which costs the least.

We are in a moment when food and the farming community has the nation’s attention. The individual action of buying food has always been able to directly reflect our values. What is unusual now is how visible that direct connection currently is.

Local food gives us an opportunity to get to the true definition of efficiency – perfectly valued. Many buyers value cost and also value having regional farms, supporting farmers’ futures, eating fresh food, strengthening their local economies, and having a reliable source during crises. When buyers hold those values and the connections between what they value and what they purchase are visible, then local food is equally or even more efficient than far-flung food. It’s economics as if people mattered (and it is indeed beautiful.)

A robust local food supply is forward looking. The point is to have options that shore up our economies, help our people, improve our planet, and protect us in times of emergency. Local food does all four of those things. Next up: More on costs and values.

A CONVERSATION WITH IVAN ARGUELLO

GOING LOCAL TO SERVE CUSTOMERS & COMMUNITY

A CONVERSATION WITH IVAN ARGUELLO: owner KEY FOOD MONTAGUE

Ivan Arquello in market

Left to right: Ivan Arguello, Jr., Ivan Arguello, Sr., and Enrico Palazio, Jr.

IVAN ARGUELLO, a 30-year veteran of the grocery business, owns KEY FOOD MONTAGUE in Brooklyn Heights. Ivan’s family has operated the store, part of the cooperatively owned Key Food chain, since 1982. Today Ivan runs the store alongside his nephew Enrico Palazio, Jr. and his son Ivan Jr. Over breakfast recently, we talked about the longevity of their family business, our shared commitment to taking local food mainstream and where the super-market business is headed.

Tell us about your family’s history in the grocery business.

My father came to New York from Nicaragua in 1979, in the midst of the revolution there. He started working in construction out on Long Island, and then purchased the store in Brooklyn Heights in 1982. He found the right people to run it, and learned everything he needed to know about the supermarket world from them. My brother-in-law Enrico Palazio, Sr. and I took over the business when my father passed away in 1994.

Why Brooklyn Heights?

I’ve always felt at home here. It’s a great community that appreciates the value of having a quality supermarket in the neighborhood, and we have many loyal employees, some who have been with us for 30 years. We owned a second store, in the Bronx, for a while, but ultimately decided to focus all of our time and attention on making the Brooklyn Heights store the best it can be. My wife Mary Elizabeth and I live in New Jersey now, but I love Brooklyn Heights. The store is my second home.

How has your business changed over the years?

Consumers today are much more informed about food and demand higher levels of service, convenience and transparency from their sources and grocery stores than ever before. Their interest in local food continues to grow, and we dedicate ourselves to finding the best sources from around the region. That inspires our focus on quality, the products we offer in the store and how we present them. We work hard at getting that right. It means a lot to us that customers continue to support their local family-run supermarket.

How have you responded to these developments?

We talk with our customers all the time, ask for their input and anticipate broader consumer trends. It’s important to listen to the younger generations. I see that they’re eager to try new foods. Knowing how they shop has changed how we think about selling food. Enrico and Ivan Jr., our store’s third generation and younger consumers themselves, have helped with this. In 2015, we collaborated with a group of Fordham business school students to analyze consumer and market data and identify changes we needed to make to better serve our customers. Those adjustments, which we’ve implemented over the past couple of years, have been very successful.

What are some of those modifications?

We focused on product sourcing, store remodeling, and product presentation to ensure the best food and fit with our customer. We opened a new kitchen and hired a professional chef to develop recipes so we could offer a broader array of prepared foods. We now have a farm stand look that sets our produce department apart. Ivan Jr. has a knack for spotting trends, and he’s always out foraging for the tastiest, highest-quality local products. Enrico is involved in the deli and cheese departments and keeps the operations and finance side of things running smoothly.

How did you find FIVE ACRE FARMS?

I’m proud to have been among the first to discover and carry FIVE ACRE FARMS. Dan (Dan Horan, Five Acre Farms Founder & CEO) lives in the neighborhood and has long been part of the community. Like KEY FOOD MONTAGUE customers, I believe in your company’s mission and want to support the region’s outstanding farmers. I know from talking with our customers that they recognize that local farmers and businesses need our support to thrive and grow and want to do their part to make that happen.

What makes your partnership with FIVE ACRE FARMS work so well?

To me, the foundation of our productive working relationship is our shared belief in the vital role local food plays in building community and the local economy. FIVE ACRE FARMS really knows local food. You provide great-tasting, high-quality local products. You connect us to our farmers by telling us about them and where our food comes from. You show that you really care about our store. There aren’t many companies out there that offer your level of service, that send ambassadors into the store, like you do, to visit, talk with dairy managers and introduce your products to customers.

What do you like to eat at home?

I eat very well at home... steaks are definitely a favorite. We enjoy many cuisines from around the world. And my wife always asks me to bring home FIVE ACRE FARMS Maple Greek Yogurt. That’s what she serves when her friends come over for breakfast. They just love it!

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