How does the locally-grown, organic parsnip get to the grocery store?
No, thank God, this isn’t this year’s new hip children’s book. It’s the subject of Samuel Fromartz’s story in the current Edible Portland on the challenges of organic and local distribution, a rapidly growing industry. (Well, it was growing, at least. Registration required to view link.) Fromartz looks at distributors on both coasts, but his primary focus is the Organically Grown Company (OGC), an Oregon worker-and-farmer-owned distributor. Its dank warehouse is a long way from folk musicians at the farmers market, but it “represents a distant ideal of food distribution,” he writes. And the model OGC is creating is critical to getting local food beyond the white-tableclothed farmers market menu.
The company’s a fascinating case study: Back in the 1980s, farmers in Oregon realized they were cannibalizing each other’s business. “To resolve this no-win game, the farmers came together to coordinate planting schedules, so that everyone’s broccoli wouldn’t be harvested the same week. They also divvied up markets, so they could be assured of sales.” To keep customers year-round, they stretched their original mission—importing organic bananas from Mexico, say—but they didn’t abandon their ideals: Their trucks are biodiesel and the company’s waste target is zero. And for every box of bananas, OGC donates 60 cents to support schools and health programs for their Mexican growers.