Panel explores building local food economy

Jerry D'Orazio, owner of Garden Creek Farms in Challis, Idaho, talks about his operation during a panel discussion about the growing demand for local food during the organic conference hosted by the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides on Feb. 9 in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Demand for local food is high, but building a local food economy in Idaho faces some challenges.

Four people with expertise in marketing organic and local production addressed those challenges and offered support to growers at the organic conference hosted by the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides last week.

The Boise Co-op works with farmers year-round to buy organic and sustainably grown products, said Hannah Laws, who orders produce for the co-op.

During the growing season, the co-op strives to stock 50 percent local produce. The co-op has an ample supply of such items as tomatoes and kale but has no local options for broccoli and celery, which could provide opportunity for growers.

It could also use more fruit and year-round production from greenhouses, she said.

The co-op welcomes more producers and products. If something doesn’t sell, the co-op just won’t buy it again. The operation is flexible and can market small or large amounts of produce for growers, she said.

“We can kind of do whatever you guys want to do,” she said.

Idaho’s Bounty is another option for growers. The co-op is basically a broker, said Mike Seaman, head of producer relations.

“We help growers find buyers for their products,” he said.

Idaho’s Bounty gets a lot of requests for root crops; there just aren’t a lot grown in Idaho. In addition to the underserved demand, root crops offer more flexibility with perishability and less stress for farmers, he said.

Idaho Preferred is another program that supports growers by providing farmers with marketing connections. The program promotes Idaho food and ag products to raise consumer awareness of where to find local products, said Leah Clark, Idaho Preferred program manager for the state Department of Agriculture.

The program also works with retailers, restaurants and foodservice to source and showcase local products, she said.

“Consumer demand and the trend toward local food is working in our favor. There’s a lot of opportunity out there,” she said.

The program receives a lot of requests for fruit, especially berries. And chefs are always looking for anything new and unique, such as ancient grains. What the program doesn’t need is more pumpkins, sweet corn and kale, she said.

Garden Creek Farms in Challis is a diversified sustainable farm that raises organic produce and grain, grass-fed beef and fish and shellfish. It has the only certified organic commercial kitchen in the state, said Jerry D’Orazio, co-owner.

The operation produces organic soup for a company in Colorado, using mostly its own produce and can help other small producers with processing and packaging. The farm is part of a larger organization, Firstfruits Foundation, which wants to develop local markets and promote regional farms and food production, he said.

“The demand is there, you just have to get your food into the consumers’ hands. And we need to help ourselves” by pressing restaurants and retailers to offer local food, he said.

The panel members agreed the two biggest challenges to building a stronger local food economy are the limited amount of year-round production and a lack of processing.

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