Agriculture and the business of buy local

One of the first things that jumped out at me when I began working at the Chamber was the lack of representation from the county’s agriculture industry in the membership base. The one member tied to agriculture was a poultry service in Nash County. Even entering our new fiscal year on July 1, agriculture is still only represented by that same Nash County business. As someone who seeks to make sure the Chamber’s membership reflects the business community of Warren County, the lack of ag representation is troublesome. It’s one reason I asked to join the newly formed Warren County Local Food Promotion Council. I want the Chamber to do more outreach to local food producers and be more involved in this part of our local economy. 

However, this column isn’t really about me assessing my membership gaps or outlining a strategy. I want to touch on agriculture’s place in the small business world; admittedly, it’s something I am recently recognizing and learning about.  

I’ve grown up shopping at roadside produce stands, something I consider part of Warren County’s charm. In my adult life, I’ve frequented farmers’ markets and found produce vendors that I’ve considered gems in my culinary ventures. Buying locally raised food has fluctuated, for me, between being a usual part of securing a grocery list and being a novelty. Lately, I’ve become more aware that for a good part of my life, I’ve tended to think mostly about local food through a lens of my own purchasing ability and convenience. That’s quite natural. As consumers, we rationalize our purchases based on our desires and financial needs. 

Since I began working at the Chamber, I’ve started to think more about local food and agriculture through a business lens. I’ll state here that I do not profess to be an expert on economics and the agriculture sector. In fact, I have many questions, including:

How does the community perceive farmers when it comes to small business? If a farmer lacks a storefront, do some consumers neglect to think about the farm as a business? If local produce and meat aren’t readily available, does this lessen consumers’ reliance on local food or their willingness to purchase local food? How does the business community work to encourage inclusion of local food producers? When it comes to being a business owner, what similarities do farmers share with non-agricultural entrepreneurs? What are the differing needs of farmers from other small business owners? 

In Farm Aid’s report “Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family-Farm Centered Food Systems,” I came across several points that resonated with me as someone concerned about the larger community economy, namely centered around the “local multiplier affect”; “every time money changes hands within a community, it boosts income and economic activity, and fuels job creation.” 

So how do we, as consumers, begin to shift from novelty purchases to regular purchasing patterns with local foods? How do local suppliers help consumers make that shift? What do public officials need to continue or implement to support the local farm as a viable business? 

How do we make the statement “buy local food” be an attainable action statement, and not a cliché?

There is some really good work going on in this community revolving around local food and farm promotion, and I encourage us as a community — consumers, farmers, business owners, public officials and nonprofit leaders — to continue to engage in supporting our local food system and our community based economy. 

 Please join the Warren County Local Food Promotion Council for a Local Foods Luncheon on July 30. Tickets are $7, and only 50 are being sold. Contact Warren County Cooperative Extension, 257-3640, or the Chamber of Commerce of Warren County, 257-2657, for more information. 

 Chamber Connections is a monthly column by the Chamber of Commerce of Warren County.