And food costs are rising: Grocery store food prices increased at a 6.7 percent annual rate in the first nine months of 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bad weather has a hand in rising food costs; so has a strong global economy, with the demand for food increasing. And the growing demand for ethanol, which is basically corn and soybeans (feed for cows, pigs, chickens and even fish), has led farmers to devote food-producing land to this cooked-up fuel product.
Finally, back to that fuel bill. Diesel -- the main fuel that runs combines and tractors -- is up in price big time, adding to farmers' costs. And then there are those petroleum-based pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, farm chemicals that have doubled in price since 2006.
One oft-quoted figure is that the average food item travels 1,500 miles before hitting our plates, but we need to factor in additional energy to get food to human gullets. Food packaging takes petroleum-based products, as does shipping groceries from plant to plant, to distribution center, to store, and then into the minivan. Add it all up and it's a fossil-fuel "inconvenient-truth" nightmare.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & ucky for Spokane, we have a year-round CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) organization coming to the rescue. Fresh Abundance, under progenitor Bright Spirit Hendrix, is a local farmer's friend, while also providing Spokane with organic and whole foods choices not easily found in local supermarkets.
"We listen closely to the needs of farmers so that we can adapt our system to fit their needs," she says. "Our goal is to serve the farmer. [Fresh Abundance] is creating a common market for local products, where customers can satisfy the majority of their needs with local products. In this common market, consumers can have a real idea of who is producing the products they purchase."
Fresh Abundance selects products from a 200-mile radius "target zone" around Spokane. To reduce packaging, customers return containers to be refilled with flour, oils, and sauces. Fruits, vegetables, eggs, chicken and meats are hand-chosen by Bright Spirit, who goes to the farms and gardens. In that process Spokane gets to taste the products of more than 60 local producers. And she plans to expand that number soon.
"It's obvious when it is from our neck of the woods, as it is labeled as local, and we can even tell you about the farmer we got it from," she says. "Local is so very much more fresh and good, too!"
Here's how it works: members sign up to have plastic bins delivered or picked up on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. (Boxes range in price from $35-$45 for members; membership is $35 per year, with a one-time $15 registration fee.) More than 200 members currently take part. Thus far in 2007, Fresh Abundance has moved $50,000 worth of local products, according to Bright Spirit. Total revenue for 2007 will be $500,000.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & ack in 1996, Bright Spirit worked with Chrys Ostrander and helped launch the Tolstoy Farms CSA. (Tolstoy's CSA program continues to thrive during the summer months at the Spokane Farmers Market.) She says she learned the ropes of farmer, marketer and CSA provider, enabling her to come up with what she sees as a better food delivery system.
"While some farmers choose to direct market, other farms and orchards sell only wholesale," she says. When those producers can't connect with a local wholesale market, she adds, they end up driving their produce far from local markets for lack of wholesale demand.
Fresh Abundance buys large quantities from both small- and large-scale farmers who sell directly. Smaller batches of produce come from backyard gardeners. All of this food is organically grown, she emphasizes.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & ater this year, Fresh Abundance will expand into a 6,600-square-foot space on Division across from Mountain Gear (2015 N. Division) -- a space six times the size of their current location. They plan to have a European-style market, with some of the food producers selling poultry, eggs and produce. The present location (1001 W. 25th Ave.) will continue as a compact, full-line grocery store. The next transition is switching to alternative fuel for delivery vehicles. (Delivery is free in the local area for orders of more than $35.)
Bright Spirit speaks of a family-grounded ethos to teach the next generation to be more earth conscious and respectful of the idea that local farmers have to stay in business:
"Being the mother of eight children, I believe that the most effective learning happens at home through daily activities," she says. "Our best hope is to make locally produced food widely available, so children see their parents buy and consume local goods, experience the value, and taste the difference."