Greetings from the Co-op! Isn’t this the best part of the year: more daylight, longer evenings, real sunshine (at least some of the time), spring skiing, maple syrup, and a chance to start seedlings. Here at the Co-op, March brings patronage refunds, potting soil, a new display for bulk kombucha and cold-brewed coffee, a month-long sale on Sunsoil CBD, Pi Day (3/14), St. Patrick’s Day (3/17), and Member Appreciation Weekend and Cabin Fever Case Sale starting on the 29th, among other things.
Last month, I shared some of my testimony to the House Agriculture Committee on Vermont’s local food system and the important role food co-ops play. I was inspired by the 2018 Farm To Plate’s Annual Report that shows purchases of local food and beverages have more than doubled in the past eight years. The Co-op Council followed up by inviting Farm to Plate Program Director Jake Claro to their March meeting to share additional information about our local food scene.
He had some impressive progress to report. In fact, Jake provided evidence of success for all three of Farm to Plate’s legislative goals: food sector economic development, job creation, and increasing access for all Vermonters to local, healthy food. For example, there have been significant increases in local purchasing by institutions (especially higher education), while Vermont dairy sales increased over $12 million between 2014 and 2017. A total of 6,559 net new food system jobs have been created since 2010, along with 742 net new businesses. At the same time, the percentage of food insecure Vermont households has decreased from 13.2% to 9.8%. Clearly we have cause for celebration.
At the same time, there are significant challenges ahead for our local food system. Many producers are reporting increasing challenge with distribution and getting their products to market. Farm income is up overall but so are expenses, leaving many farms on the edge of viability. Succession is a challenge throughout the system (and our broader economy) as a key generation of business owners reaches retirement age, many without attractive transition options. In fact, there is a great deal of concern for the future of Vermont agriculture, as expressed in this call to action document by UVM and the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board. Despite the successes, we must continue to evolve and innovate in order for our local food system to sustain and thrive. We consumer obviously play a critical role by voting with our shopping dollars and letting our retailers know what else we want in terms of local foods.
The Co-op will be hosting a Dinner & Discussion event on April 25 at the Montpelier Senior Center to further explore the theme of local foods. After a buffet served by the Co-op’s kitchen, we will hear from a panel of experts including Jake Claro, Caitlin and Jason Elberson from Sobremesa, and the Co-op’s Lead Grocery Buyer Olivia Dunton. There will be time for questions and discussion as we explore what we can do individually and collectively to support local foods in Vermont. Look for more details on this free event in early April.
Some shoppers have been asking about a recent Consumer Reports study of heavy metals in fruit juice. The researchers measured levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead in 45 different juices including five sold by our Co-op. Three of those were judged to be “Better Alternatives” (Apple and Eve 100% Apple Juice, Looza Pear Drink, Honest Kids Organic Grape Juice Pouch) while one is considered a potential risk at eight ounces or more per day (R.W. Knudsen Organic Pear) and another at four ounces (R.W. Knudsen Organic Grape). Following a review, we decided not to discontinue selling those products as we cannot guarantee the levels of heavy metals in other juices that we sell. In fact, heavy metal contamination is a broader issue for the fruit category and as well as wine, baby food, rice, fish, protein powders and sweet potatoes. We contacted R.W. Knudsen and they state unequivocally that their juices meet or exceed federal standards. Heavy metals are a particular risk for children as they can disrupt normal development. The author of the Consumer Report article recommends protecting children by limiting their juice intake and opting for water or milk.
See you in the aisles,
Kari Bradley, General Manager