“Can I Get This At Whole Foods?”

April 4, 2012

Musings from the Philadelphia Farm and Food Fest

This past Sunday, I spent the afternoon walking around the first-ever Philadelphia Farm and Food Fest, an event organized by Fair Food and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.  Amid thousands of people, I heard the question “Can I get this at Whole Foods?” over and over again.  People lined up for samples from gluten-free bakeries, artisan ice cream and gelato makers, and local dairies and cheese-makers; others lined up to meet farmers, seed and plant distributors, and local food nonprofits.  Among local food aficionados, it appears that Whole Foods is the go-to-place.  I think the question raises three points.


First, although we talk about the need to build a regional food system, it looks like Greater Philadelphia, which includes New Jersey, has a booming and blooming population of farms and farmers, distributors, food artisans, and value-added producers. Their presence, and probably their sheer will and ability to adapt in a changing business climate (and growing climate), does not mean our regional food system is without its challenges… nor that the regional food system is able to serve all of our residents equally and equitably.  However, it is reassuring to see so many people excited and actively engaged in supporting their regional food system.


Second, although many foodies like the personal and hands-on adventure of discovering a new product, meeting the challenge of using an exotic vegetable from a Community Support Agriculture (CSA) share, or creating a home-cooked gourmet meal, eating locally (and healthfully) needs to be easy to be a part of our modern, everyday lives.

The Common Market, a nonprofit local food distributor, and Farm to City, a small business and local food pioneer, are partnering on the Delaware Valley Farm Share.  This innovative farm share, which will consolidate many different products from family farms in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, will hopefully make participating in a CSA program more accessible to more people.  By sourcing from several farmers, it could make the CSA package more appealing by providing a greater variety of local fruits and vegetables.  A central consolidation service could provide the regional economy of scales of marketing and distribution that many small farmers cannot afford to do individually.  The shares will be delivered to individual members every other week at their office buildings and workplaces – possibly making eating seasonally easier.  And members have the option of paying for the entire share upfront, with bi-weekly installments, or through payroll deductions (if an employer makes that option available).


And last, but not least, the “Whole Foods” question reminds me that if we want farmers to stay in business and for the local food/fresh food movement(s) to grow a strong, sustainable, regional economy, we have to remember that growing and producing food is a business.  Whole Foods is really a stand-in for an economic exchange between a supplier and a consumer.  And in a world that is increasingly online and automated, knowing where your food comes from is reassuring on many levels.

Many people know that I take food seriously (perhaps too seriously).  Sunday’s Farm and Food Fest reminded me that I shouldn’t forget that food is tasty and fun.

Alison Hastings of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and DVRPC partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog on issues of food policy and regional food systems.