What Makes Something “Local?”

by moderndomestic on April 17, 2012

No, it's not local coffee. This is from Vivace in Seattle. I really liked this piece from The Post about why Qualia Coffee, a local coffee roaster, isn’t allowed to sell at some farmers’ markets in the DC area. The reason? Because, although Qualia roasts the coffee locally, the beans themselves aren’t locally sourced (literally, they can’t be grown in this climate).

I think this is a huge issue in the small business community – what does or does not constitutes a “local” product. Now, I understand why FreshFarm Markets has strict rules about local producers – ever been to a farmers’ market selling bananas? But, to me, Qualia is different because you can’t source coffee beans locally. I don’t want to go to a farmers’ market and buy California tomatoes that are being passed off as local tomatoes. But Qualia has no choice but to source beans from tropical climates (as do all coffee roasters).  The roasting process transforms a raw material into a unique product, which, in my mind, qualifies them as a local food producer. I’d feel the same way about a local chocolate maker who buys cacao beans from tropical climates (again, because they only grow in tropical climates), and then roasts and process them into a one-of-a-kind chocolate product.

What do you think? What makes something “local?” What kinds of producers do your farmers’ markets allow?

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The Week in Food – The Plate: dc
April 20, 2012 at 2:36 pm

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Ryan Bressler April 17, 2012 at 7:07 pm

For tropical products, I’d like to see a separate designation made based on carbon footprint and mode of transportation. I tend to avoid things like bannans that were clearly flown in but for less perishable things like coffee, chocolate and dried spices I’ve convinced myself that they could have come by ship or train.


Alice April 17, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Blue Bottle sells coffee at the Berkeley farmers markets. I think Berkeleyans would kill if there weren’t any coffee while they see and be seen, I mean, shop for kale. I don’t have a problem with it, as I like to drink coffee at the market.

I don’t think the people who are whole hog on local products are really ready to give up all the out-of-town luxuries. I don’t want to return to Little House on the Prairie style “what’s an orange”, but I think it’s nice to appreciate how hard it is to source exotics like coffee.


katy April 18, 2012 at 8:10 am

Most farmer’s markets have bread & pastry purveyors & most of them don’t use local wheat, which I believe *can* grow in this climate but just isn’t grown in much quantity. I’ve never been to a FreshFarm market…do they allow that?

I believe the lines of local & non-local are pretty clear cut with produce, meat & dairy products. When it comes to value-added products like baked goods, coffee, or chocolates, I feel that it’s best to encourage the producers to use as many locally sourced inputs as possible, but to allow the selling of “far-away grown, locally improved” at the markets. My weekend would not be complete without a chocolate & almond crossaint & I’m glad I just have to go to my local farmer’s market (instead of Baltimore!) to get it.


moderndomestic April 18, 2012 at 8:50 am

Yes, FreshFarm has several bakers. For baking it’s really hard to use all locally sourced ingredients because the profit margins are small – so, you have to balance the value of sourcing locally, with the need to keep your prices in line with the market. I’m not sure how they do it in California – when I was out there I went to several bakeries that used local dairy, but their prices were reasonable (not cheap, but reasonable for a boutique bakery).


Alice April 18, 2012 at 9:35 am

Marin County just north of SF has a huge number of California’s dairies, so that helps with local sourcing. And there is pastry wheat grown down near Pescadero (at Pie Ranch!) and up near Chico.


Rachel April 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Thanks for this post! I agree with the sentiment of supporting local businesses. These smaller operations that do artisan roasts of coffee beans or manufactures chocolate bars should be promoted. However, I also think there needs to be a distinction between what can be sold at a “farmers market,” which should focus on local producers of agricultural products, and a local artisanal market (like Eastern Market). In Seattle, some of the markets go so far as to say anything out-of-State is not allowed to be sold. That may be a bit extreme, but I understand the desire to purchase within one’s “foodshed.” Local processors of tropical imports should be touted and definitely supported, but I think through a different outlet.


Kaydee April 19, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I ran into this issue in BRooklyn when I was looking at selling chocolates that we made at the farmer’s market – because chocolate isn’t (can’t be) locally sourced. I think it should be allowed if all the ingredients that *can be* locally sourced are (for example at bakery stands the sugar is not generally local!). Hm, I wonder if one could get a petition going on this to make it allowed… petitions and lots of work went into allowing having bees in NYC, where it used to be illegal. For chocolates, there could be local cream and local flavors and it should be allowed the same rules as all Added Value products that farmers are allowed to sell.


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