Jeff (Founder & Executive Director of Slow Money SLO) and I have been doing some planning lately around where we want to go for the rest of the year and beyond and as part of that, we’ve been discussing our events - the what, the why, the where.
For me, the most compelling question is the why - why do we host events?
Various reasons, of course, but one of them stood out - to encourage attendees to eat, drink, and shop local*.
So now my question becomes (or remains)….why? Why local? What’s so great about local?
It seems to me that Slocals (aka residents of SLO County) shop at local businesses for a number of reasons, and there is a long history of folks here being quite loyal to local businesses. It’s actually the reason Jeff credits the early and prolonged adoption of Slow Money in this county. Not every Slow Money group has had as much success as ours and that’s largely thanks to the dedication to local business that Slocals have sustained through the years!
So, it appears the first reason, and perhaps the most prevalent, is simply a strong dedication and loyalty to San Luis Obispo County and all the businesses that are locally owned. We love living here and we show that by shopping at the mom & pop shops and small farms in the hope that they will survive (and thrive!) as our food system faces continual globalization.
Municipalities are dedicated to local too! The City of SLO as well as Paso Robles have done 'Buy Local' around the Holiday Season the past 2 years!
Now, while that reason to support local is valid and enough, it is definitely on the sweet and idealistic end of the spectrum. Maybe some more concrete reasons are at play as well.
From my understanding, these can range from better quality, to friendlier service, to more diverse & unique offerings, to environmental sustainability, to food system resilience, to knowing where your food comes from - aka, know your farmer (or producer), know your food.
Each one of these reasons offers a rich background and, honestly, quite a bit of complexity. So I want to explore them one by one in a series on local eating, drinking & shopping!
First up - better quality.
The literal definition of quality is ‘excellence’ or ‘superiority in kind’ (Merriam-Webster), but there are various categories of quality that consumers refer to when they are talking about local food (or food in general).
If 'superiority in kind' can be applied to size, I'd say this beet from City Farm SLO hits the mark!
They could be focused on nutritional quality - local foods are fresher and therefore more nutritious than imported foods.
While this is true in some cases, it may not always be true. Due to our globalized food system that becomes increasingly more efficient (which may or may not be a good thing), food harvested in South America and air-shipped to California could reach my plate 24 hours after it was harvested (Coehlo, F., Coehlo, E., and Egerer, M., 2018), just like the food I bought at the local farmers market yesterday. So unless I do a nutritional analysis, I can not be 100% sure that my local farmer’s food is more nutritious.
However, I personally will buy the local product over the internationally imported one because in addition to the nutritional value, the local option also supports my local economy and my personal connection to the farmer - so it’s got that trifecta power!
Additionally, even though I’m not conducting nutrition analysis, I know my farmers and I’ve been to many of their farms. I know how they treat their soil, their workers, their crops, etc. Therefore I have some reassurance that their food is nutritious (without having to get my science kit out) because they are tending to their soil - it’s not devoid of nutrients from overproduction and they are adding compost and other organic nutrients that then get into the tomatoes, or carrots, or broccoli that I buy from them.
Bottom line is, I’m going to choose the product that I have more background information on because I don’t know those farms in South America and I don’t know how they grow their crops. For me, the personal connection is a major driver to where I spend my income.
Taste is also a driver. Fun fact about me: when I say food is better quality, what I really mean is, it just plain tastes better!
Take carrots, for example. I’ve known since I was a teenager that my preference is for local farmers market carrots versus baby carrots from the supermarket ‘cuz, they're sweet, earthy and crunchy, where as the baby carrots are..... not?
No offense intended to all the baby carrot lovers out there! Every palette is unique and valid, mine just draws me to those funny orange roots with the frilly greens on top :).
Fresh carrot from Windrose Farm.
It is important to acknowledge however, that what I dub higher quality food is a) still subjective and b) often difficult to attain for many of my neighbors.
This second point I'd like to explore because it is a real threat to the sustainability of our food system.
Not everyone has the time or resources to get to the farmers market, let alone afford those carrots with the tops on that I love so much. This is discouragingly very true in our community and many (if not all) others.
So now I want to ask how? How do we change that? How do we make that local high quality product (however we each define it) accessible to everyone if they want it?
I’m honestly not totally sure, but I have some ideas.
First, our friends at the SLO Food System Coalition, along with their workgroups and members, are diligently chipping away at food accessibility challenges in our county. They are doing outreach to the community to encourage eligible individuals and families to enroll in CalFresh. They are also assisting CalFresh users at farmers markets to understand how to use their EBT cards to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and other products.
Second, I think those of us that have the ability to buy local food and beverages can make a difference with our dollars. Local economies are boosted when we spend our money at local businesses (Robinson, N. and LaMore, R., 2010). This can help create more local jobs (Treece, D., 2022), which lower income folks need in order to afford higher quality food.
Now, I know it is not as simple as that - folks still have to afford rent, bills, medical needs, etc., and many of those demand payment first, meaning whatever funds are left get spent on groceries.
However, since I am not equipped to create more affordable housing or higher paying jobs, I will focus on what I am equipped to do - EAT LOCAL and therefore invest my dollars into the local food economy.
It will take time to bring about change, but I’m in it for the loooooong haul.
Want to join me?!
Locally sourced breakfasts (my favorite meal of the day) featuring: Nano's Coffee, SLO Co+op bulk coffee, Bread Bike, Kelpful Sea Sprinkles, Colony Culture jam, Central Coast Creamery cheese, Tiber Canyon olive oil, California Bee Company honey, and farmers market produce!
*Local can have many different definitions, depending on who you ask. For the purpose of this blog article, when I say ‘local’ I am referring to food, beverage, and farms that are located and/or produced in the Central Coast Region of California, as well as the counties bordering it. Given that some farms from the Central Valley come to sell their tasty produce at our SLO County farmers markets, I want to acknowledge their contributions to our regional food system!
If you want more information on where your closest farmers market is in SLO County, head here.
Looking for locally owned grocery stores and restaurants that source locally? Head over to our Support Local page!
And, send us your favorite local spots to eat, drink, and shop! Leave a comment or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!