Community Agriculture Alliance: Locally-owned businesses come full circle
In the Midwest farming community in which I grew up the 1960s, franchise fast food outlets were nowhere to be found. We had three grocery stores, two of which were family-owned operations. My hometown had locally-owned and operated bakeries, a farmer-owned dairy and a locker plant that provided great cuts of beef. The locker plant was so named as people who did not have freezers of their own could rent lockers to store meat.
A decade later, a franchise grocery store put everything under one roof. The one-stop convenience had its appeal — as did air conditioning on hot summer days. The store had its own bakery, meat counter, a pharmacy, a deli; provided services such as money orders; and a decade later, movie rentals, cups of craft coffee and flower arrangements. This grocery store looked just like every other one in the franchise. Make no mistake, it was an efficient and reliable way of doing business.
This did cut into the business of the local bakeries, dairy co-op, locker plant and other mom-and-pop outlets. Main Street suffered. Many businesses have learned that bigger is better and the right business plan can capture market share in any situation.
Yet in the past two years, news reports have been documenting the changing culture of shopping. Today, franchise outlets in food and retail are struggling. Well-known stores are closing. Amazon.com Inc., of course, is driving some of this change. Still, I believe many shoppers are seeking out local business.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the craft brewing industry that is flourishing in Colorado and becoming increasingly popular in other states. While tourists love stopping at any of the hundreds of brew houses across Colorado, I’ve noticed many of these places are attracting and keeping a regular crowd. The local brewpub is where communities come together. Why?
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For one, brewpubs have created unique blends and brands. For another, these outlets team up with local food trucks, restaurants and organizations to create a destination that calls out to families and friends. Local flavor at every table and tap are winning combinations.
Add in trivia nights, live music and the enthusiastic attitudes of the entrepreneurs behind the bar — and the barrels — and you can see why the craft brewing industry is attaining the critical mass to last.
You’ll find a similar attitude at farmers markets. People want local. They want fresh. They want to know the faces and stories that literally add value to buying their decisions. I’ve noticed that some new housing developments on the Front Range are placing a priority on open spaces and creating a Main Street feel by encouraging locally-owned bakeries, boutique clothing stores and store fronts that avoid a shopping mall statement.
Sound familiar? It’s really nothing new. People want to live in a neighborhood. They want a sense of community. They want to know someone by name and not a nametag.
The good news is it’s coming back. Coloradoans prize their Rocky Ford melons and their Olathe sweet corn and their Palisade peaches. It’s time to know more about the growers and ranchers themselves. In so many ways, we are getting back to our need for community roots. Know your farmer programs are among the best educational offerings we have at hand.
And, for some of us, we are looking forward to drinking a toast to the growers whose fields of barley and hops are supplying our ability to enjoy life one proper pint at a time.
Bob Kjelland is the director of communications for Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.
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