Monday, December 10, 2007

Farm-to-Food Memo: An Independent grocer's view

We are what we eat: A Boston, Mass. independent grocer talks about clean, organic and local food; sustainability, mass food production and society, and how his family market and cafe fits into the picture

Writing today at, independent grocer Jamey Lionette says, "I am not a scientist, journalist or other specialist. I sell food. I help run a family-owned and operated neighborhood market and cafe that buys and sells predominantly local, clean and sustainable food."

In his article, Lionette, who with other family members runs Lionette's The Garden of Eden Market and the Garden of Eden Cafe, both located on Tremont Street in Boston's South End neighborhood, says "We Are What We Eat," which is the title of his piece. "I cannot speak about the reality of our food supply around most of the world," Lionette writes. "I can only speak of what is happening in the first world, where, unfortunately, only the privileged elite can choose to put real food on their dinner tables.

We believe Lionette's piece (and opinion) is an important one, especially since it comes not from a professional analyst, industry consultant, or pundit. Rather, it comes from an independent grocer, who deals with customers each and every day in his store and cafe. An independent grocer who spends much of his time buying from local growers, wholesalers and others, and has created a strong niche so that the store can not only compete against the large chain supermarkets in the region, but also can offer shoppers something more: that local touch only an independent grocer who lives and works in the neighborhood can bring when it's done well.

Lionette also discusses farming today, and how it impacts on his family's grocery store and cafe vis-a-vis his larger grocer competitors, such as Whole Foods Market, Inc., Trader Joe's, Wal-Mart and others. He further offers his opinion about the social implications of mass-production on the overall farm-to-food picture, and contrasts it with organic and local foods. But at what financial cost he asks, in discussing the prices of organic foods at retailers like Whole Foods and others.

We invite you to read Lionette's piece, which is excerpted from the book, Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed, edited by Vandana Shiva (South End, 2007), as an independent grocer's (as well as writer's and citizen's) analysis of modern farming, food manufacturing, marketing and retailing. It also focuses on the larger economic and social implications of all of the above.

We believe the independent grocer's perspective is more important today than ever before. It's the independent who's been the innovator in food retailing. The first mover if you will. The first to merchandise organic foods, local goods, specialty products and so much more. The independent also is the backbone of the community and neighborhood. He or she is often the first merchant to put out a fund-raising canister, the first to support local groups and food drives, and the one who sustains those efforts in the neighborhood over time.

Often, when people discuss "buying local," they tend to leave out "shopping local" when it comes to their food shopping. In other words, shopping at the local independent grocer's store. How often do you here someone say: "I bought some great locally-grown vegetables at Whole Foods?'" Or, (fill-in the chain store name) offers locally-grown fruits, and I buy them every week? The point is: "eating local" folks also should think more about shopping local as well. Often supporting ones local grocer is supporting those same ideals involved in buying local foods.

We agree with some of what Lionette says in his piece and disagree with other parts. However, that's not what's important. What's key, and what we hope you walk away with after reading his piece, is his perspective on the issue, along with some new knowledge you can think about and perhaps even put to work in your day-to-day business activities.

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