If you live in New York City, “home” is one of the largest metropolitan areas on the planet, and local agriculture will necessarily encompass a large area. Starting from our spot in the heart of urban sprawl, the closest farms are a 100-mile drive away. When our local growing season is in full swing, the vast majority of the Coop’s grown and raised product comes from within the 100- to 200-mile range—this includes many of the more than 40 local small-scale farms we buy from (not including our meat and poultry suppliers). When our region’s growing season ends, the Coop sources product from further away, but when possible we try to buy closer to home.
At the Coop, we define local as within 500 miles, because 500 miles is approximately a one-day-truck-drive away. Arugula picked at dawn on a Monday can be packed, trucked and on our shelves by 8:00 a.m. the next day. Our 500-mile radius stretches from Quebec to North Carolina, and from the Atlantic Coast to the middle of Ohio. This area constitutes a range of growing seasons, allowing us to support many farms in the surrounding regions while supplying our members with a dizzying variety of local product for most of the year. In the winter we try to buy from Florida, in preference over California, when we can. That’s about as local as we get for fresh-grown crops in the winter. Whenever possible, storage crops—squash and apples for example—will be local all year long.
Buying local ensures two important benefits. The first is the benefit that our members reap: fresh product. The second is the support we give to our regional economy. We go for local, but we also try to go for “little,” which allows us to help to sustain family-owned farms and farming cooperatives throughout our region. The Coop’s buying practices support people who, in general, are dedicated and conscientious stewards of the land.
On the shelves of our produce aisle, we identify the geographical origins of approximately 225 items. If there is more than one source for a local item we simply say, “locally grown within 500 miles.” If an item comes from a single farm we name the farm and its location. We think this practice makes the idea of “local” hit home—even in one of the biggest cities in the world.