The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) is asking Virginians to spend at least $10 per week on locally grown foods and beverages, it announced yesterday (March 15). Research by Virginia Cooperative Extension has shown that if each household in the state spent just $10 a week on locally grown agricultural products, consumers would invest an additional $1.65 billion into the local economy each year.
While agriculture is already Virginia’s leading industry with an annual economic impact of $55 billion, the $10 Buy Local Challenge could increase that impact dramatically. Partners in the challenge include VDACS, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, Buy Fresh Buy Local-Virginia and all the members of the Virginia Food System Council.
As winter gives way to spring, many consumers start thinking about fresh, locally grown produce that will soon be available at farmers markets, on store shelves and on restaurant menus. Many locally grown products are also available year round in farmers’ markets. VDACS lists winter and year-round markets here.
With the advent of spring, many more markets will open with seasonal produce such as asparagus, greens, herbs, peas, onions and berries. Spring is also the beginning of the CSA season when consumers begin cashing in on their Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions for seasonal fruits and vegetables, eggs, honey, herbs, flowers and more.
VDACS Commissioner Matthew J. Lohr noted that the $10 challenge is a nice complement to the agency’s Virginia Grown marketing program. “The Virginia Grown program is aimed at helping consumers easily identify locally grown products in the marketplace,” he said. “The program uses a highly recognizable logo that Virginia farmers’ market vendors, grocery stores and restaurants can use to designate Virginia Grown products. VirginiaGrown.com also offers a user friendly searchable website that helps consumers find pick-your-own farms, farm stands and famers’ markets in their community.”
Consumers cite many reasons for purchasing locally-grown products. Products are fresher and thus more nutritious. When they purchase products on the farm, at roadside stands or at farmers’ markets, consumers get to know the farmer with the food and say this gives them a sense of community with the men and women who grow their food. Buying locally creates jobs and keep dollars circulating within the local economy. And many consumers say it’s important to them to reduce food miles associated with shipping food long distances.
VDACS offers these tips to help consumers meet the $10 Challenge:
• Go to VirginiaGrown.com for pick-your-own farms and farmers’ markets. One way to ensure you’re buying Virginia products is to buy directly from the farmer. On VirginiaGrown.com, you can search by venue, locality or zip code for farms and markets near you.
• Get a CSA subscription. Many subscriptions sell out early, so contact your local CSA farmer soon to make sure you get a full season’s supply of products. Go here for more information.
• Look for the Virginia Grown or Virginia’s Finest logos wherever you shop.
• Buy Virginia wine. Virginia’s wineries have a renowned reputation worldwide, so why buy anything else? See virginiawine.org for a map of wineries. The state has a burgeoning hard cider industry, and for those who don’t drink alcoholic beverages, Virginia has some excellent homegrown sparking ciders, ginger ales and other beverages.
• Check your supermarket for products that often come from local producers. Taking the time to read the labels at the supermarket, big box store or specialty shop should lead you to locally-grown or produced milk, eggs, honey, cheese, specialty items and more.
• Look for restaurants that feature local products on their menus. Museum cafes and restaurants often feature local products on their menus and even provide information about the farms and farmers.
• Ask for local products. More and more grocery and retail stores highlight local products with signage, banners and other eye-catching point-of-sale markers. But when in doubt, ask. Ask the produce manager which products come from area farms, within Virginia or across the region. If the store doesn’t offer local products, tell management it is important to you to buy locally whenever possible. If enough people ask, they’ll get the message.