Entrepreneurs / Small Business  June 17, 2011

Nonprofit marks five years of being local

FORT COLLINS – When summer rolls around, thoughts turn to gardening, fresh produce and farmers’ markets.

That’s something Be Local Northern Colorado has dedicated itself to encouraging over the last five years, along with spreading the gospel of “Buy Local, Eat Local” all year round.

Be Local is the creation of Hill Grimmett and Gailmarie Kimmel, who started out on separate missions but came together in 2006 to forge a nonprofit organization. Its main early accomplishment was to start the annual Winter Farmers Markets in downtown Fort Collins.

Grimmett had launched the Northern Colorado Food Incubator in 2004, and Kimmel created the Local Living Economy Project in 2006 with the first Be Local coupon book.

“He’d been doing a food incubator for business and I came out with a tool,” recalled Kimmel. “We realized we were on the same page as far as a vision.”

The pair set about in December 2006 organizing the first Winter Farmers’ Market for bakers, salsa makers, jam and jelly makers and others in the region whose products did not depend on summer markets.

“It was frankly an experiment,” Grimmett said. “They’d basically been saying when the farmers’ markets close, they may not have anything to sell but we still do. So the winter markets were kind of an experiment.”

The winter markets were also open to local craftspeople.

“We were looking at businesses that had the decision-makers here, independent people,” Kimmel said. “From a consumer point of view, what we were trying to do was think about things that are made close to where we live.”

 

“It was more helping people make the decision not to buy something from a big-box store, to instead buy something from a neighbor,” she said.

Catching on

The winter markets began to catch on and have been growing in popularity with Northern Colorado consumers. By the winter of 2008-09, there were five markets from November through March. The markets are now held from late October through early April.

“It made it so there was at least one farmers’ market in Fort Collins every month of the year,´ said Grimmett. “Growers realized people were coming in January and February to buy product if they had it to sell.”

That encouraged growers to raise winter produce in greenhouses around the region.

“We began to have people with fresh produce all through the year,” Grimmett said. “We had fresh lettuce locally grown in January. You can’t beat that.”

Be Local has also focused on putting out “Eat Local” food guides that help consumers find Be Local members. The guides also alert consumers to the region’s farmers’ markets, community gardens, cooking classes and other things of interest to those wishing to be part of a network of locally based food-related businesses.

Fossil Creek Farms, a Community-Supported Agriculture vegetable operation in southeast Fort Collins, has been selling its produce at farmers’ markets and to local restaurants and school districts since 2008.

Simply put, CSAs are produce businesses that sell shares to the public, who then can obtain fresh local produce throughout the harvest season.

Steve Maitland, Fossil Creek owner, said becoming a member of Be Local Northern Colorado has been a fruitful experience.

“We have seen our CSA triple in sales since (joining),” he said.

Maitland said Fossil Creek has about 50 CSA members getting food from his 10-acre farm but could “probably handle 200” if he focused exclusively on CSA farming.

Maitland said he’s glad to see a growing interest in locally grown items and noted there’s a growing number of CSAs to satisfy that demand.

“I think if a person knows what a CSA is and is Internet-savvy, they’ll be able to find one,” he said. “I think in Fort Collins and around the country it’s really starting to get rolling.”

Maitland said he believes that’s because more and more people want to buy local and eat local.

“It just seems like supporting your local economy is a very important thing,” he said. “There’s no sense shipping in what can be grown here and you know where it’s coming from.”

Many motivations

Grimmett and Kimmel say there are many reasons why increasing numbers of people are beginning to buy local food whenever possible.

“I think it’s a confluence of many, many things,” Grimmett said. “I hear all kinds of motivations. Food safety is one. Healthier eating is another thread. Cooking as recreation is part of it, and some people think local food has a more positive environmental impact.”

“I think it sometimes comes down to taste and feeling better when their food is more alive and real,” Kimmel added.

And even though buying locally grown food can cost a little more than what’s at the supermarket, Kimmel said there are other factors to consider.

“A huge part of the conversation is about value and worth,” she said. “It’s not just about price. At some point we’re doing ourselves in when we don’t look at what’s behind the price, at what’s really healthy and sustainable.”

Be Local Northern Colorado has about 300 members that include growers, retailers, restaurants, food groups and service providers. “It’s a little bit of everybody,” Kimmel said. “The common denominator is they are all independent, locally owned businesses.”

And that’s good for the local economy, Grimmett notes. “Every study says locally owned businesses have a stronger economic impact than those who aren’t,” he said.

The underlying philosophy of Be Local is to support the kind of locally owned infrastructure that once flourished everywhere, Grimmett said.

“How do you re-establish a place-based, human-scale living economy?” he said. “It’s a sense that we create the economy together and it’s not just imposed on us, that we’re actual participants in this and not just passive consumers.”

FORT COLLINS – When summer rolls around, thoughts turn to gardening, fresh produce and farmers’ markets.

That’s something Be Local Northern Colorado has dedicated itself to encouraging over the last five years, along with spreading the gospel of “Buy Local, Eat Local” all year round.

Be Local is the creation of Hill Grimmett and Gailmarie Kimmel, who started out on separate missions but came together in 2006 to forge a nonprofit organization. Its main early accomplishment was to start the annual Winter Farmers Markets in downtown Fort Collins.

Grimmett had launched the Northern Colorado Food Incubator in 2004, and Kimmel…

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