Friday, July 25, 2008

Demand for local food at an all time high

What a modern headline: “Demand for local food at an all time high.” A person born in 1908 probably would not be able to understand it, yet today the issue of locally grown versus imported food may be essential to our continued well-being. The locally grown food issue is, ironically, worldwide.

For all the industrialized nations the food chain has become a complex system based on global corporations that separate producers and consumers are through a chain of processors, value-added manufacturers, shippers and haulers, and retailers. This food chain is so convoluted it is almost impossible to understand. For example, If you shop at Costco and many other grocery stores, you are familiar with the Earthbound Farm Organic Foods, which is a subsidiary brand of Natural Selection Foods, which is a subsidiary of Tanimura and Antle.

The Certified Organic Associations of BC (Canada) has a chart of the global corporations that own some of the organic (but not local) brands you can find on your grocery store shelves. Who Owns What in the Organic food industry, by Phil Howard, an assistant professor at Michigan State University's Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies is surprising. If after reading the chart, you feel like you are in a modern version of Abbott and Costello’s “Who's on First,” you are not alone.

The global organic food industry is threatened by the movement to buy from local farmers, who actually provide less than 2% of all food consumed in the United States, and probably the industrialized world, as well, although I have no statistics on this. The globalization of food, which took away the issue of seasonality, so you could have tomatoes, cherries, broccoli, and more year-round, proved to be a highly disruptive situation to both food distribution and agriculture. Food distributors who did not provide out of season food found themselves out of business. Farmers planted one or two crops to meet the huge demand that nationwide and worldwide distribution created.

The local food movement may be as disruptive in reverse. If you enter the phrase “demand for locally grown food” into Yahoo Search, you will get 9,870,000 articles returned.


Local Kitsap Peninsula food is actually difficult to find. All of the local CSA (community supported agriculture) farms were sold out weeks in advance. Local farmers markets report an increase in customers of double or more over last year. Even our miserable weather and resulting slow season does not deter CSA members and farmers market customers.

However, not everyone can join a CSA or go to a farmers market. To help people who want to enjoy locally grown food, Bainbridge Islander Carlee Ashen started Farm Courier to bring local produce to Bainbridge Island doorsteps. She is at the forefront of local food distribution. Farm Courier enjoys an unique place in the local food distribution system, but Ashen’s success is going to inspire others to copy her business model and join her in providing fresh, locally grown food on the Kitsap Peninsula.Farm Courier and Carlee Ashen were recently featured in this Bainbridge Island Review article Cyber market links Bainbridge growers to residents hungry for local food.

Crossposted with


Anonymous said...

Natural Selection Foods is not a subsidiary of Tanimura & Antle. Please check your facts.

mjholt said...

Tanimura & Antle owns a minimum of one-third of National Selection Foods which owns Earthbound. I did check my facts when I wrote this, and I rechecked them. Here are the details.

Tanimura & Antle Inc. has owned a minimum one-third of Natural Selection Foods Inc. since September 1999. Industry analysts refer to Tanimura & Antle as the acquiring or major firm since apparently Natural Selection Foods Inc. does not own a stake in Tanimura & Antle Inc. Hoovers, a business information company owned by Dunn and Bradstreet, at confirms this.

One article from that time follows.
The California-Based Lettuce Producer Buys Stake in Organic Produce Firm.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 17 — Tanimura & Antle Inc., the world’s largest independent, conventional lettuce producer, is buying a one-third interest in Natural Selection Foods Inc., the nation’s largest organic produce firm — acknowledgement organic produce is growing in consumer affection.

The deal is effective Sept. 30. Financial details were not disclosed. Both companies are privately held. Natural Selection, which sells under the Earthbound Farm label, is based in San Juan Bautista; Tanimura & Antle is in Salinas.

Natural Selection’s founding members will remain the majority partners. Both companies will maintain their respective production facilities, offices, management, sales staff and employees.