Local Foods for Thoughts

Not too long ago, I read that olive oil was available for sale at the Mill City Market. What up wit dat??

So I went to the market to check out the olive oil sitch this weekend, and sure enough - Valli Dell'etna Olio di Oliva representatives were there slinging 4 varities of olive oil. Very tasty olive oil, I might add. You might remember Valli Dell’Etna from the strib's The Taste 50 this past May.

Not to jump to conclusions, I asked sales rep Josephine Mangano a few questions. The lowdown: Valli Dell'etna Olio di Oliva is, in fact, produced in Sicily by her family. It is then shipped to Minneapolis and distributed and marketed locally by Josephine. That's when I slammed on the brakes.

Perplexed was I because my understanding was that the Mill City Market was distinguishing itself through its mission for local foods: "Our mission is to promote local, sustainable and organic agriculture, increasing economic opportunities for farmers, urban youth, small businesses and food artisans. To offer experiential learning about and access to healthy local foods, and build a vibrant gathering place for Minneapolis residents and visitors." It's a neat little market right next to the Guthrie.

There was no question, for me, about the quality of the Valli Dell'etna olive oil. I just couldn't understand why it was being sold at a "local foods" market. "Perhaps I missed the boat entirely on this one," I thought to myself, "maybe Valli Dell'etna falls under the 'small business/food artisan' aspect of the Mill City Market mission." But I couldn't shake the feeling that Valli Dell'etna somehow didn't fit in with the rest of the local farmers and producers at the market.

I decided to see if Mill City Market had any info on their web site about their definition of local foods, but couldn't find much. I couldn't find Mill City Market's guidelines for farmers and producers on their web site either. "Perhaps the fact that the product is being distributed locally by the same family that produces it in Silicy makes Valli Dell'etna a local, small business," I speculated.

So I took some time to think about the general definition of local foods. My understanding of local foods is the standard: "foods that are produced locally." But what about a small, family operation like Valli Dell'etna? I know it's a small artisan operation, but should it be considered "local" in the scheme of things?

Sure, it can be called organic, and even sustainably produced. But local?

SO...this is where I'm at now: Overall, does Valli Dell'etna's presence at the market broaden or compromise the "local foods" message of the Mill City Market?

This dialog I had (with myself and gerg) reminded me of Pollan's piece about "local" foods, "No Bar Code". He encountered an organic producer who wouldn't ship him a broiler chicken because "shipping meat all around the country" wasn't sustainable. Says Pollan, "By definition, local is a hard thing to sell in a global marketplace. Local food, as opposed to organic, implies a new economy as well as a new agriculture—new social and economic relationships as well as new ecological ones. It’s a lot more complicated."

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07/23/07 UPDATE (in a message from Sandra): "I got the skinny from Marjorie who runs the Mill City Farmer's market: all of the meat and produce is guaranteed to be local but they are making exception on some specialty items, such as the olive oil. No worries on the meat/produce front though."

7 comments:

Ranty said...

Interesting. I haven't been to the Mill City market to see the olive oil in question, but I have been perplexed by the presence of Chiquita bananas at the Lyndale market... I too thought it was *supposed* to be all local stuff.

Kate said...

Target also sells things at the Mill City Farmers' Market. I guess they're local...

reetsyburger said...

Ranty - my understanding is that the Minneapolis Farmers Market has 3 locations: Nicollet, Lyndale, and Glenwood. The Minneapolis market does not have a local foods restriction for its vendors.

From their site: "Most of our vendors sell locally grown products. However, with Minnesota’s short growing season (only 107 to 163 frost-free days), we also include produce grown elsewhere so we can offer you the widest selection of fresh food for the longest time."

I'm pretty sure the St Paul Farmers Market is restricted to local producers, but I'm not sure how they define "local."

Sandra said...

I'm planning to do this challenge that my co-op is encouraging, to have 80% of your diet be local between Aug 15 and Sept 15. I was sort of counting on that market to be my salvation. Now I'm just cornfused.

reetsyburger said...

Sandra - Fortunately, most of the producers at the Mill City Market have some sort of signage or pamphlet that indicates where they're located...including the olive oil distributors.

I do recommend the Mill City Market for your local foods...just take some time to read about the farmers and producers. Or, if you don't feel like reading, just ask!

Sandra said...

Reetsy - don't know if you're planning to attend but I'll be at the fundraiser tomorrow night for the Mill City Farmers Market, should be a fun event!

reetsyburger said...

sandra - I'll be at a yacht party, so I won't be attending. Let me know if you hear anything about the olive oil!