BCS Board Studies Trends in Farming, Distribution, and Retail

The Bloomingfoods/BCS board focused our study this month on trends in farming, distribution and retail stores. You may be aware of some of the challenges we face as a society as large corporations put small farmers out of business and we watch our former fields of food sprout houses and strip malls.

Currently, one in six Americans face hunger. As the large corporations buy up smaller distributors, they usually end up raising prices and eventually deleting smaller suppliers. Gasoline prices and weather changes are also disrupting food distribution systems. There were twenty eight consumer co-op food distributors in 1982; now there are only three.

We researched innovative ways people are dealing with these challenges. In Davis and Sacramento, California, food co-ops have partnered with land trusts to create funds for farm preservation. They purchase easements that require the farms’ land to be kept from development and farmed only organically.

Community Supported Agriculture farms have become increasingly popular. The Intervale Community Farm in Vermont farms forty four acres and is owned by its CSA members. CSA farms are usually owned by the farmers. There are also co-op food stores who have purchased their own farms and/or orchards.

PCC Natural Markets in Seattle, WA, with nine stores and 45,000 members, formed the PCC Farmland Trust with the mission to ensure that generations of local farmers productively farm using sustainable, organic methods. The Trust purchases conservation easements with the farmer purchasing the title.

In Britain, The Co-operative Farms work 55,000 acres. They began 200 years ago. New sustainable local mini-farms are cropping up everywhere. These include lavender farms with their own healing retreats, u-gather nut groves, backyard gourmet chef market gardens, urban greenhouse heirloom tomato growers, miniature rare sheep ranches for handspinners’ wool, and wild-grazed micro dairies.
To serve these local, small farmers, new methods of distribution are being tried. These include everything from “pocket markets” with one or two food tents, which can be set-up once or on a routine schedule for churches, neighborhood groups, clubs and schools, to on-line ordering systems with a single “fresh truck” drop shipment. Pick-ups can be at malls or other locations. There are co-op farmers who bring their foods to a central location, then distribute, rather than each one taking their individual items to each store.

On the retail front, Wal-Mart has entered the “Neighborhood Market” with twenty 40,000 square foot stores, small by their big box standards. Best Buy, Office Depot and Staples are all scaling down to smaller stores. Many cities are limiting the size of stores and opting to serve the increasing population of people who want to walk or bike to shop daily. Dollar Tree, already small-sized, is adding food to their mix. And, of course, many chains already have “mom & pop” size stores, carrying some organic foods.

Bloomingfoods is keeping pace with all of these trends and foresees opportunities for more innovative response to the changing needs and preferences of our member-owners. If you are of an entrepreneurial nature, now may be a great time to become a link in this blossoming local, organic, cooperative food chain.

Carol Bridges, Secretary
BCS Board of Directors