Virginia Is for Locavore Lovers

I love the local food movement — well, make that the local wine movement. All the rest, from tomatoes to goat cheese, is a bonus. And it appears that I am in the right place. The locavore movement is taking off here in Richmond and in other locales across Virginia. Indeed, the June 2011 issue of Forbes referred to Charlottesville as the “locavore capital of the world.”

It’s hard to measure the consumption of locally grown foods, but a good proxy is the number of entrepreneurs who espy a business opportunity. If someone is willing to commit their time and capital to a venture, they either see existing demand for locally grown food or are willing to proselytize the population in order to create future demand. In the current issue of the Virginia News Letter, Tanya Denckla Cobb lists many of the start-ups, food festivals and regional initiatives that are popping up all over the state.

Virginia now boasts niche slaughterhouses like True & Essential Meats in Harrisonburg, Blue Ridge Meats in Front Royal (founded by by local sheep farmers), Donald’s Meat Processing in Lexington (founded by local cattle farmer) and EcoFriendly Foods in Moneta. Likewise, reports Cobb, custom butcheries are gaining a foothold: the Belmont Butchery in Richmond, the Organic Butcher in McLean and Charlottesville, Two Fat Butchers in Front Royal, Red Apron Butcher in Arlington, and Let’s Meat on the Avenue in Alexandria.

Meanwhile “food hubs” and “aggregation hubs” are proliferating across the commonwealth. There are least eight — two in Charlottesville, two in Richmond, and one each in Virginia Beach, Warrenton, Roanoke, the New River Valley, Abingdon and Floyd. And there are more on the way. One of my friends is pursuing a locally grown food distribution venture here in Richmond.

Aside from the obvious virtues of superior taste, quality and responsiveness to consumer demand, locally grown food is great for economic development. Replacing food transported from hundreds or thousands of miles away, it creates local jobs and local profits. It help preserves farmland and rural view sheds from the encroachment of development. And it contributes greatly to the quality of life. All those wine and food festivals are fun!

A political offshoot of the locavore movement is the idea of “food sovereignty,” the notion that people have the right to produce and sell local foods without the oversight of state or federal regulation. In June the Maine legislature declared the state’s food sovereignty, stating that “food is human sustenance and is the fundamental prerequisite to life,” and that the “basis of human sustenance rests on the ability of all people to save seed, grow, process, consume, and exchange food, and farm products.”

Virginia hasn’t gone quite so far as to declare food sovereignty — there are public safety issues to consider, as the German e coli outbreak traced to organically grown bean sprouts reminded us — but in the 2008 “home exemption law,” the General Assembly did exempt candies, jams, jellies and certain baked goods from inspection, if those items are sold at a farm or at a farmers’ market and labeled not for resale. The “pickle bill” earlier this year would have extended the inspection exemption to pickles made from the produce of one’s own garden, but did not pass. On the other hand, the dairy industry is fending off a proposal to require homestead raw goat milk cheese makers to build expensive pasteurization and milk-handling facilities.

At the local level, the city of Richmond has adopted an ordinance that will enable nonprofits to obtain permits to develop city property into community gardens. Virginia cities and counties, predicts Cobb, also “may find themselves considering policies that would bring banished animals back into urban neighborhoods, such as ordinances to allow people to raise backyard chickens, goats, and bees.” (Incidentally, some 28,000 honeybee hives in Virginia produced over 1 million pounds of honey annually. A neighbor in my suburban neighborhood manages three hives in her back yard!)

Ten years ago, I might have poo-pooed the locavore movement. But the older and the more health conscious I get, the more I obsess about the quality of the food I consume. We are, after all, what we eat. Here in the Bacon household, we already make fruits and garden salads part of our everyday diet. Given the choice, why not eat local?

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13 responses to “Virginia Is for Locavore Lovers”

  1. […] But the older and the more health conscious I get, the more I obsess about the quality of the food I consume. We are, after all, what we eat. Here in the Bacon household, we already make fruits and garden salads part of our everyday diet. … Full Story […]

  2. Why does there have to be high sounding yuppie names and grandiose plans applied to everything? Oh and keep the government out of it. They have a citified city owned farmers market down here, with all the fancy names, that is so expensive it makes Farm Fresh look cheap. I go to another one, that is basically a bunch of farmers camped out under some trees. I grow the common stuff in the yard.

  3. Heh, heh, Darrell, if you grow your own stuff in the yard, you, too, are a locavore… just by a different name. … As for “keeping the government out of it,” I think the proponents of the locavore movement would agree with you. State and local regulations may improve safety (we can debate that point) but they unquestionably stack the deck in favor of Big Agriculture.

  4. the locavore movement is an interesting case study in government regulation.

    given the age of the internet – it won’t take but one poisoned kid and one bankrupt farmer who supplied the bad food before there are demands that the government do “something” and in the mean time – the thundering herds will be running AWAY from locally produced but unregulated food.

  5. I ppredict a lot of niche market producers will fail when the locavore movement is over provided.

  6. While I’m a huge supporter of Charlottesville area farmers markets (and really farmers markets anywhere), I agree slightly with Darrell’s that the locavore movement tends to be a pretty “yuppie” movement, at least here locally. What I mean by that is that almost all of the “fruits” of the locavore movement–farmers markets, restaurants, and grocery stores sourcing local/organic food–target or cater to folks who can afford it. A more realistic, more just effort would include low-income communities too. The Quality Community Council is doing some of that with their community gardens and garden grants program. But in general, there’s not a lot of discussion about how to make local, organic foods accessible to low-income folks in our community, not just the yuppies who can afford it. It’s what I hope to see coming out of Charlottesville in the next few years, or at least what I’ll be working towards anyway.

    1. SMF, I think you find that once the yuppies establish infrastructure for a locavore movement in Charlottesville, you’ll find that it becomes more affordable for everyone. That’s generally the way it works: Wealthy people buy the big screen TVs, Ipads, Iphones, what have you, thus building economies of scale, then the price drops and the masses can afford them, too. Food’s no different.

  7. Food Freedom Avatar
    Food Freedom

    Thank you Mr. Bacon for “Virginia is for Locavore Lovers”. Indeed, there is a food revolution taking place and what better way to preserve farms? Keep them farming and producing local healthy foods to the local community, right? Not if the wacko farm police have anything to do with it. Our forefathers consumed foods free from chemicals, hormones and GMOs and yes they even drank fresh raw milk. They would be appalled at the hyper regulation of small family farms in the Commonwealth. For example, most Virginians don’t realize that over 15 million Americans (the global numbers are off the charts) consume fresh raw milk free from hormones/chemicals and derived from healthy grass fed pasture raised cows enjoying sunshine instead of feed lots and disease infested CAFOs. In California, you can buy it at your local retail as well as in Pennsylvania – just two of the many states that permit it. However, this doesn’t seem to stop the vicious raids costing Americans millions to arrest and haul off poor innocent farmers. It is a travesty and devastation against us all. Speaking of Forbes, read all about it: Fortunately, The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund ( exists to protect these innocent farmers. No one is forcing anyone to drink raw milk. It is about liberty and food sovereignty. Personally, I can’t drink raw or pasteurized milk, but I believe in the Constitution and my neighbors freedom to consume whatever kind of milk they want or honey for that matter. Remember there was a time when you couldn’t buy honey that had not been inspected too. Thanks beyond words goes out to VICFA (Virginia Independent Consumer and Farmers Association) Because of VICFA you can bake bread and make jelly and sell it your neighbor, otherwise your local church, school or business bake sale fundraisers would be hand cuffed and hauled off to jail. Recall that once upon a time, neighbors would trade amongst themselves with out Big Agribusiness or government regulation. Families would enjoy the freshest foods that had not traveled thousands of miles exposed to radiation, artificial colorings, hormones and taste enhancers and other carcinogens. Just look at our public schools now embracing local farm grown vegetables in the many “Farm to School” programs instead of canned old carrots and frozen tasteless peas. Now our children are enjoying seasonally fresh vegetables. There was a time when having your local farmer provide a salad bar for your kids during lunch time was scandalous. Be afraid of your local chemical free farm-grown tomatoes! Our freedoms have been slowing taken away from us and how do you control people? Control what they eat. Mr. Bacon, like you I too enjoy the local wine movement – vineyards are agriculture. Remember Thomas Jefferson? Yet, local county governments are taking it upon themselves to create local ordinances (in direct contradiction to Virginia law concerning wineries) to prevent family run wineries. Just look at Fauquier County’s recent new wine ordinance ( strangling local wineries and if adopted would put many out of business and prevent future wineries altogether. What is next? Your local farmer with his pumpkin patch for all of one month is going to be regulated because the neighbors will complain it is a nuisance. Your local pick-u-own farmer will be hauled off and handcuffed for selling too many peaches. The environmentalists screaming “Buy Fresh Buy Local” from the rooftops are also the first to proclaim that selling your farm grown vegetables (or grapes turned in to wine) are “commercial” and not agriculture. Isn’t Virginia a right to farm state? They don’t want your local farmer to be able to sell zukes and cukes on his land. Instead, they want them herded to farmer’s markets. Just read about poor Arganica in Albemarle. . Why it is perfectly reasonable to have a sting operation while spending millions and millions of dollars on armed raids because of Mooshine. If you are in doubt about, just watch Food Inc or We have a moral duty to protect our freedom to choose healthy foods for our children and future generations. Ever hear of MONSANTO? Be afraid. Be very afraid. Still in doubt, even this 11 year old knows the truth:

    1. “Mooshine” — I like that phrase. My wife grew up in North Carolina and her extended family gathered every Sunday at the country home of her grandmother and grandfather, who lived off a small farm on the side of a mountain. She still tells the story of drinking milk fresh from the cow. She prefers the store-bought kind today, but she never said anything about about anyone getting sick from the unpasteurized milk she drank as a child. I agree with you that there is a large element of personal liberty at stake here. People should be free to eat and drink what they want. At the same time, the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the public health. Undoubtedly, there are instances of crazy regulatory overreach. On the other hand, we can’t move to a totally laissez-faire arrangement, especially when people are selling to other people. I don’t know where we draw the proper line, but based on what you say, we should be relaxing the regulations somewhat, not tightening them.

  8. I would like to address two issues that have been mentioned: the first one is regulations. I believe we need a two tier system one for big agribusiness’ food products and small farmer’s food items. Food should be regulated if you buy it in the store. If it is a direct farmers to consumer sale then it should not be government regulated. It’s not that I am against food regulations I just cannot think of any regulated food that is healthy to eat! I should be able to go directly to my neighbor’s farm and buy anything they produce without the government being involved.
    Second item I would like to address is: Cheap and expensive food. Most people feel that they cannot afford to buy food at the farmers’ Market because it is too expensive. What most people fail to realize is that they are spending more money on food in the grocery store it’s just taken out of their back pocket through government subsidies, environmental clean up, healthcare, immigration, so you see that unhealthy food cost much more than food at the farmers’ Market . The food at the Farmers’ Mkt has the real cost on it. The store bought (agribusiness) food has a fake price on it. there is no such thing as cheap food! Agribusiness just wants you to think that their food is cheap. Yes, it is hard to pay all these taxes and be able to afford good food. Consumers need to stop this craziness by holding thier representative accountable.

    1. Lois, You make an interesting point about the subsidies (both direct and indirect) embedded in the industrial agriculture system. Has anyone quantified those subsidies? Could we say that food in the grocery store would be, say, 20% more expensive without them?

  9. Listen – we need to get real here.

    what happens to farmers markets once a deadly strain of something that is not found in traditional good chains ends up killing someone’s child?

    don’t say it can’t happen. we have a long, long history of it EVEN WITH regulations.

    the truth is that the farmers markets are going to be badly hurt by incidents of this kind – and ultimately – as a matter of survival they are going to demand “standards” themselves….. call it self-policing …. will that satisfy people?

    the localvore-regulation dichotomy is an opportunity to revisit how regulations come to be in the first place.

    some of the safest food in the world comes from companies like McDonalds and WalMart … because their reputation is their economic health.

    Note.. I did not say the food was the best or did not have other adverse impacts on environment or small farms… just that one company with one name but thousands of locations has a lot more to lose than one company with one name and one location….

    we put sewage sludge on farms fields these days… and we’re not supposed to be planting human food on that land for some number of years….

    who checks that? who would you want checking it? If it comes to be that a farmers market was found to be selling produce grown on such land – would it not inevitably cause the govt to get involved?

  10. besides we are still so messed up over 911 that all someone has to do is start a rumor than terrorist are poisoning “localvore” foods and that whole idea is done.


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