Every time produce is scanned at the checkout line at the supermarket, a vote is cast. Whether you know it or not, that newly bought and mass-produced selection represents your vote for the big chain’s lower prices over local farmer’s quality assurance.
This, according to Laurie Slater, employee at Tonopah Rob’s Vegetable Farm, is one of Arizona farmers’ biggest challenges. The folks at Tonopah Rob’s Vegetable farm, located in Tonopah, believe that all natural is better than organic. Nothing is used to grow their crops other than sun, soil and water.
“If you can’t afford to buy everything nature grown or organic at least purchase the most popular item used in your household nature grown or organic, it truly sends a message to the number crunchers,” said “Tonopah” Rob on his website, owner of Tonopah Rob’s Vegetable Farm.
According to a study by Cornell University, which looked at several marketing channel outlets for local farmers, a pound of apples directly from farmers sold at a farmers market for an average retail price of 50 cents per pound. This is rather cheap compared to in-state farmers who sell their crop to packers and shippers at $1.41 per pound. However, when farmers sell directly to consumers at farmers markets, they keep 40 cents of every pound they sell compared to 26 cents when they sell it to wholesalers.
Steve Russell, local foods coordinator for Local First Arizona, said spending that little extra money to support local farmers would strengthen the economy. Local First Arizona is an education advocacy and outreach organization focused on helping consumers recognize the importance of the way they decide to spend their money in all of Arizona.
“Arizona-based businesses keep about four times as much money in Arizona, and especially in the food industry, it’s a much more sustainable route to getting food to your table,” Russell said.
“(Local foods) has such a big impact on our community,” said Erica White, Southern Arizona Director for Local First Arizona. “A lot of folks don’t realize, but for every $100 you spend, when you spend that locally, about $43 will stay here in our community opposed to only $13 when you shop with a chain business. It really has a huge effect.”
This, in return, will create more jobs and strengthen the local tax-base to provide support to local programs and businesses. But most importantly, it supports the people in your community, specifically the local business owners that have invested in the community, White explained.
Russell said buying local is also healthier.
“Local food is much more sustainable. It tends to be more nutrient dense because the farmer can pick the food right when it’s ripe and bring it right to you,” he said., noting that most produce in the supermarket is shipped days after it is picked.
“When you buy from local farmers, you know exactly who is growing your food and exactly what is going into it,” said Slater. “My chickens have names. I love and care for each one of them. In return, they provide us with eggs and meat, which was grown with love and care. Not a factory.”
Cole Malham is a reporter at Arizona Sonora News, a service from the University of Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org