Local Food: Guardian of the Vegetables

By Terri Smith –

Hello, Everyone! I’m excited to begin this new column on local food. Local food has been my passion for over a decade, and my own journey of eating it, growing it, selling it, and teaching about it has been both fascinating and difficult, but always rewarding. While there are many parts to the story of local food in the Cariboo, I’m going to begin by talking about one that is dear to my heart.

The crew at Long Table Grocery. Photo submitted by Terri Smith

For almost a year now I have been working at Long Table Grocery in Quesnel, BC, and I’m very proud to be involved here. My background is in farming and at work I have been given the title, “Guardian of the Vegetables” because I am ridiculously protective of them. I take it personally any time a vegetable goes to waste, and I rejoice every time we find a new way to use up surplus veggies!

If you have ever thought about coming in to Long Table and haven’t yet, please do. With any new retail business, every purchase counts, but with food it counts even more because the mark-up on local food is so small and the food itself is perishable. In supermarkets the amount paid for food is pennies on the dollar. I have read that the mark-up on industrial food can be as high as 99%. This means that for a bunch of broccoli purchased for $5, the farmer might get five cents. This is why so much of the food we see in grocery stores comes from Mexico where labour is cheap, or from California where the workers are still from Mexico and the labour is cheap. As well, literally tons of food each year goes to waste when it is not purchased. At a small, local food store like Long Table, however, the mark-up is only 25%. If a head of broccoli at Long Table costs $5, the farmer gets $3.75. The rest goes back into running the store. We also do everything we can to use up our surplus veggies and any ‘waste’ is composted.

 

To put it a different way, for every $1000 in sales, only $250 of that goes to Long Table, and the rest goes to the farmers. I’m not saying this to try to have you feel bad for Long Table; I want you to see what an awesome thing it is to support a business that supports other local businesses. The economic spin-offs of shopping here are huge. Because we live in a culture that doesn’t talk about money, we often don’t see how important our money choices are within our community. No one starts a local food business for fame and fortune. Places like this only happen because of people who want to help build community and grow a healthier food system. Because most of the money that comes in goes out again to pay the farmers, we must get very inventive in finding other ways to make money to grow the business.

When I was first getting to know Amy Quarry who owns and operates Long Table, she told me about her ideas of applying permaculture principles to business. This idea intrigued me, and I have since come to really love and appreciate the wisdom behind it.

The delicious selection of fresh fruit and veggies at Long Table Grocery. Photo: Terri Smith

The core tenets of permaculture are the core tenets that Amy has adopted for Long Table. If the following ideas, instead of the idea of maximizing profit, were at the core of every business, what a world we would live in.

1 Care for the Earth
Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. This is the first principle because without a healthy earth, humans cannot flourish.

2 Care for the People
Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.

3 Fair Share
By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles. This includes returning waste back into the system to recycle into usefulness.

Some of the ways Long Table has diversified to both follow these tenets and grow the business include:

There are more projects constantly in the works, but this gives you an idea of just how many things we are working on at any given time.

In the coming months I will probably write a lot more about Long Table. This place is much more than just a job for me; it is a passion and my second home. Come by and see us, and we can talk some more.

An erstwhile market gardener and mother of goat, Terri lives on a small farm near Quesnel, BC. Here she gardens, makes art, writes about local food, teaches workshops, and works at Long Table Grocery as Guardian of the Vegetables.

 

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