Can local food jump-start the economy?

December 9, 2009 at 8:45 pm 2 comments

Yes we can,  according to an international study by the  Wallace Center and Michael Shuman’s Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) , as reported in The Washington Post.  And one of the shining examples is our local Weaver Street Market, the natural foods cooperative grocery and cafe, which started in Carrboro and now has stores in Hillsborough and Southern Village/Chapel Hill.

The study looked at Weaver Street and 23 other community food enterprises in the U.S. and abroad.  Weaver Street is now a 12,000-member co-op that includes three grocery shop/cafes, an artisanal bakery and Panzanella, an Italian restaurant. Its success allowed the market to open an affordable housing cooperative and a locally owned radio station. It also runs a community fund that donates more than $60,000 each year to local schools and other nonprofits.

Its outdoor cafe in Carrboro feels like a daily street fest or a zocalo in Mexico, as people enjoy fresh, organic, local food, shade-grown locally roasted coffee, good friends, live music and even dancing on the lawn.  Kids play, dogs jump, birds sing, what could be better?

A growing base of members and shoppers has built the market’s revenues to $20 million annually and helped to generate $12 million of economic activity,” according to co-founder Ruffin Slater. “Another way we measure our contribution to our local economy is the amount we purchase from local farmers and food producers, which last year amounted to over $2 million,” he told The Post.

 More than a dozen studies have shown that every dollar spent at a locally owned business generates two to four times the income, wealth and jobs than at an equivalent nonlocal business, according to The Post. (Read more about the economics of local foods in an earlier Post post.)

“This is not only a movement about health or taste. Local food offers a sophisticated business model that is becoming more savvy and more competitive,” said Michael Shuman, BALLE’s director of research, principal author of the report, and author of The Small Mart Revolution.

Shuman says all locally owned businesses can help the economy grow. But food businesses are the gateway for many people to rethink their relationship with local stores. People have a closer relationship with food than, say, financial services or energy, he explained. As a result, food is at the forefront of local businesses’ driving of economic growth, providing a model for other kinds of entrepreneurs.

Indeed Weaver Street inspired, and helped mentor my favorite local food co-op/cafe, Chatham Marketplace, less than 2 miles from my back door in Pittsboro. And former Chatham Marketplace stars have helped launch other new community food enterprises like the Saxapahaw General Store just up the road and Company Shops Market, a new natural foods grocery store being developed in nearby Burlington.

Read the rest of the Washington Post story:

More on the Wallace/ BALLE study. See Jeff and Cameron’s Excellent Culinary Adventure.

Entry filed under: Sustainable Farming, Sustainable Food, Uncategorized, Whole Food/ Locavore Eateries. Tags: , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Eric Henry  |  December 22, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    It is Company Shops Market, not Community Shops Market. The name came from the early days before it was called Burlington, being a major stopping point on the railroad line and the store is going to be one block from the tracks in downtown Burlington

    • 2. sustainablegrub  |  December 23, 2009 at 6:42 pm

      Sorry about that, it’s fixed now. When will the market open?


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