It goes without saying that we all want to get our foods directly from the people who grow it. This simple desire comes from a notion that it is better for everyone involved. Unfortunately, we live in a complicated world and there are lots of factors that get in the way of this working out. A major milestone in the evolution of a local food system that promotes this ideal has begun in the form of a collective called Linc Farmers.
There are more people producing food to sell directly to consumers in this area than at any point in the 20 years I have been buying. There are more restaurants featuring these items. There are also more consumers buying more food at farmer’s markets. And with this expansion there are more needs and limitations that enter the system.
As a high volume restaurant we have looked for ways to expand our consumption of local products while still working with some of the small producers that I have known for over a decade. Luckily on the other end, small scale agricultural operations have been looking for ways to come together and tap into a larger market collectively in a way that solves some of the inefficiencies of their distribution and billing.
Linc Farmers allows farmers to share in the expensive liability insurance that allows them to sell to school districts and universities. It provides an efficient distribution system with a warehouse and branded trucks that eliminates each farmer from spending the day going from restaurant to restaurant individually. It also gives the buyer a state of the art online ordering system that for the first time shows the product, the farm it comes from and the quantities available as well as consolidates the purchases into a single payment transaction.
This ambitious program won’t work for every farmer or for every restaurant but I believe that it is an important piece in the process of building a more sustainable food system. Far too often restaurants utilize local products as a shiny object paraded out for promotional purposes. The justification for paying the extra money is tied into marketing. This mentality is limiting and makes it too tempting to create an image that allows the consumer to believe that the business that features Farmer X’s product must maintain this same level of buying thoughtfulness in all of their other ingredients.
I believe that the best way to expand all restaurants purchases of local products is to make them competitive in the same world as the mainline providers. Even though price is a dominant force in the market, the value added factors of quality, product diversity, and community good will help create a different paradigm. Of course, none of this could happen until the issues of distribution, inventory availability, and ordering efficiency had been addressed. That is why Linc Farmers needed to happen.
It has only been a few months and now more of the issues that will need to be addressed have come to light but I am hopeful that more businesses recognize that buying from Linc now, is an investment in a larger potential that can’t happen without the support of early adopters. Look for Linc’s red bins stacked at the front of Central Food along with products from some of the Linc producers like Estella, Urban Eden and Dan Jackson Farms.