I've had localism on my brain a bit more than usual of late. This is mainly because I was told this week that The Bloomy Rind could not be a vendor at the East and West Nashville Farmers' Markets because 1) I'm not a producer and 2) many of my products come from more than 150 miles away.
For those who don't know me, I would like to preface the rest of this post by saying that I'm an outspoken advocate for buying locally. I hardly set foot in a grocery store during the growing season in Tennessee. I will always choose a local restaurant over a chain. I've pushed friends and family who aren't local-oriented to choose local goods. I helped organize a new fund to benefit local farmers. And The Bloomy Rind purposely doesn't offer cheeses in styles you can get locally so as not to compete with them, but rather to offer a more complete selection. I say all this to make sure that you know I am in no way questioning the merits of localism. I suppose I'm questioning some interpretations of local - and where the boundaries lie.
So back to my being turned down by the market...
This would be fine if it weren't for the exceptions made for other vendors. Specifically a local company that blends teas - teas that are grown as far away as India. And local coffee roasters - again roasting coffee beans grown in other countries. So the blending or roasting of a product makes it local? If I alter the cheese, does that make it local? Maybe grilled cheeses, would they be local, even if the cheese came from Vermont? What if I grated it, would it then be local, even if the cheese came from Oregon?
What about the good folks who sell baked goods at these markets? I know some bakers use as many local ingredients as possible. But I'm pretty certain many do not. What about that yummy fresh-squeezed lemonade? Don't see too many lemon trees in the great state of Tennessee. I could go on, but you get the point.
Here's the thing, I'm not opposed to the bakers and coffee roasters being at the market. In fact, just the opposite. When you buy these products you are supporting local, small businesses. I love that! In fact, I would go a step farther to say markets are an invaluable resource to startup businesses who aren't yet in a position to have bricks and mortar. These (We) are folks trying to build something in an economic sh*tstorm - and just need a way to reach the public.
Just for fun, let's also take a look at this from a completely different angle. What if you were a dairy farmer/cheesemaker making fantastic, all natural cheeses who happens to live more than 150 miles from a major city? Who would you sell to? Could you make a living selling only to those within a 150 mile radius? It would probably be tough.
I imagine some folks would point out that there are local cheesemakers here. And I would respond, "heck yeah, there are, and you should buy from them!" Two of my faves are Bonnie Blue and Noble Springs. In fact, when NS started up last year, I told anyone who would listen about them. I have visited both farms. They are good folks making dang good cheese! But what happens when you want something other than what they offer? Do you get yourself some industrial cheese from one of the big groceries? Maybe you get some imported cheese from overseas? I propose that there's a middle ground.
If only there was someone offering a selection of American artisan cheeses. Someone who was passionate and knowledgeable about cheese. Someone who sought out the tastiest, hand-crafted cheese available from conscientious farmers and cheesemakers. Hmmm...
Choosing locally, sustainably grown produce is a no brainer. We, the buyers, get the freshest, best tasting produce. We support the local economy and, more specifically, nearby farmers who grow using sustainable methods. And there's less impact on the environment when produce doesn't have to travel so far.
But sometimes we want or need things that aren't grown or made locally. Lemons. Limes. Salt. Avocados. Rice. Coffee. Pineapples. Flour. Baking soda. Butter (there's a little made here but not enough to go around). Cashews. Tea. Cava. Barely Buzzed. Bayley Hazen Blue. Green Hill. Brebis.
What do you guys think? Where do the boundaries of local lie? Where *should* they lie? What types of vendors do you want to see at your markets?