Several non-profits have recently partnered to promote the ideals of eating local. Bellingham based Sustainable Connections is joining with Seattle based Tilth Alliance to expand the Eat Local First campaign.
The two non-profits, combined with a group of organizations on the Olympic Peninsula lead by The Local Food Trust, are advancing the Eat Local First campaign throughout the greater Puget Sound.
The campaign is focused on promoting locally grown, raised, harvested and made goods through distinct branding and education. “We kind of play matchmaker between local producers, chefs and food buyers so we can get more local food in all of the places we eat and shop,” food and farming director at Sustainable Connections, Sara Southerland said.
According to Bellingham.org, Whatcom County farm production is in the top three percent of all counties nationwide and is the largest producer of red raspberries in the country. The county is also well known for its production of dairy products.
Sustainable Connections started the collective marketing campaign in 2011 and currently, more than 130 businesses are involved between Whatcom and Skagit Counties. The partnership will help expand the outreach of the campaign to the Seattle metro area and the Olympic Peninsula.
Of the over 190 participants, 92 percent reported that their participation in the Eat Local First campaign has helped to increase the sales of local products, Southerland said.
After being awarded a three-year grant from the United States Department of Agriculture through a farmers market promotion program we became aware of the Eat Local First campaign that Sustainable Connections was operating in Whatcom County, executive director of Tilth Alliance, Melissa Spear said.
It made sense for us to partner with Sustainable Connections because the objectives of the campaign fit well with that particular grant funding, Spear added. The mission of the Tilth Alliance is to work with the community, Washington farmers, gardeners and eaters to create a sustainable, healthy and equitable food future.
“We were delighted when they got in touch to talk about what a partnership could look like,” Southerland said. “We saw it as a win for everybody because one of our goals with the campaign is to educate our community about where to find local food, why it’s important and to have a common identifier when we’re out at grocery stores, restaurants, or farmers markets to know if the product is local.”
The campaign was rebranded in 2018 to include the fork icon alongside the Eat Local First logo. The fork logo, similar to GF for gluten-free or V for vegan, can be included on restaurant menus and products to help consumers easily identify locally sourced food.
The fork logo helps to symbolize a couple things. The first is that the establishment has dedicated to shifting at least 10 percent of their food purchasing to truly local ingredients. It also marks menu items that consist of at least 50 percent or more local ingredients.
“Eat Local First is really focused on ensuring that farmers who are growing the food have a direct market for their products,” Spear said. “It’s keeping consumer dollars within the community and within our local economy.”
Beyond the benefits to the local and regional economy, eating local has numerous other benefits, Spear said. When consumers purchase locally sourced food they are reducing the carbon emissions involved when food travels long distances.
When you eat local you have the opportunity to meet the farmers or learn their story. You have a better understanding of their farming practices and are consuming more nutrient-rich food, Spear added.
“One of the things I particularly enjoy about the Eat Local First campaign is the way that it engages with other businesses to continue to tell the stories of farmers,” farm program manager at Tilth Alliance, Isaac Bonnell said. “When I see establishments highlight local suppliers that makes me feel good about continuing to support that business because they are supporting farmers in Washington.”
Food-related businesses such as retailers and restaurants can get involved in the campaign by signing a pledge with one of the partnered non-profits. The pledge asks businesses to commit to three main objectives.
First, commit to sourcing ingredients or products from local producers every month. Second, work to shift 10 percent of their annual food budget to local sources. Third, promote local producers to their customers so that customers know when they are buying local.
Local producers and artisans are encouraged to utilize campaign branding and marketing materials on their locally grown, raised, caught or made products. Consumers can become involved in the campaign by exploring the interactive Food Atlas online.
The Food Atlas, which will be used statewide in the future, helps community members easily find local food sources in their community such as markets and restaurants.
“I don’t have a judgment that everybody should only eat local food,” Spear said. “But even switching to buying 10 percent of your food from local sources will make a huge difference in the support of the local agricultural economy.”