Columbia sees increase in local food movement participation

Friday, November 18, 2011 | 3:06 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Columbia Farmers' Market has doubled its number of local sellers in the past five years. With approximately 85 farmers, the market has witnessed an increasing interest in local food within the community.

"People choose to buy local food because of health reasons and because it tastes better," market director Caroline Todd said. "They also realize that they can support their local economy."


The Indoor Winter Farmers' Market will open at Parkade Plaza on Dec. 3. More information on Columbia Farmers' Market website.

The market for local food has grown over the last few years, according to reports from the U.S Department of Agriculture. The department found that local food sales grossed $4.8 billion in 2008, a previous Missourian article reported. The department expects sales to reach $7 billion in 2011, though the definition of local food remains fluid.

Columbia is no exception to the trend, observers said. 

After seven years as director of the farmers market, Todd said Columbia is a diverse community open to new ideas.

"People want to try new things," she said. "So they are doing that with local food."

Rural sociology professor Mary Hendrickson said people are paying more attention to what they eat and where their food comes from.

"Most people buy local produce because they are looking for freshness, quality and tasty food," Hendrickson said. "They want to buy from local farmers, support local businesses and contribute to local development."

The idea is also to make contact with a local farmer, see how he or she works and see how the animals are treated, she said.

Hendrickson said many Americans are part of the local food movement, and they have many different reasons to buy locally-grown food.

"Tons of people are interested in local food that God intends for them," she said. "The food movement is very, very wide."

Whatever the reason, Hendrickson said the market's atmosphere provides a good opportunity for farmers and local businesses. "It's an alternative," she said. "And hopefully, it's a trend that will keep going on."

Mick Odette, executive chef at Sycamore, said he is glad to see that more people are supporting the local food movement. Odette buys and promotes local food through his business.

"Fruit and vegetable varieties that are available in supermarkets are grown for physical appearance, and they are picked before maturity," Odette said. "At Sycamore, we choose local for the flavor. We usually work with 15 to 20 different vendors, but, of course, it depends on the time of the year. During winter, choices are obviously limited." 

Odette said he supports local food as a sustainable alternative to a centralized food distribution system.

"We should be careful because the more you learn about the (current) food distribution system, the more you realize that it's not sustainable," Odette said.

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