Multi-Localism – Local Food Products Spread Regionally

Local Food Products Spread Regionally – ‘Multi-Localism’

By Eric Belgau

In the dark of last December I was in Livingston, Montana, making a film.  The wind whips through that part of the state and in the winter it carries a knife-edge of cold, which cut right through the thermals and heavy coats I’d stocked up on for the adventure.  After a couple weeks of freezing – shooting outdoors on a hillside – I started to develop a cold, and I went looking for good quality sauerkraut at FoodWorks, the local health food store, for my probiotic fix.  Not only did I find sauerkraut, but I found OlyKraut.  My favorite.

As I took my prize to the cash register, I went out of my way to thank the owners for carrying it, and they told me the story of meeting the OlyKraut team at a health food show and loving their vibe and thinking the product was great.  They knew more than I knew about the company, and they were glad their great products were being distributed more broadly now.

Needless to say, OlyKraut got me through eight weeks on the side of that mountain.  (Thank you, OlyKraut.)  And even though I wasn’t all that far away it still felt like a little bit of home.  More importantly, it got me thinking about how there are two universes of food distribution.  One is mass market megadistribution, which like mass-market production seems to destroy everything in its path.  The other expands the concept of localism.  At FoodWorks, I shopped local in Livingston and bought local from Olympia.  Since Joe is so fond of coining terms, I’m going to call that phenomenon “multi-localism.”

When we advocate for buying local, we point to several key assets of the local economy, chiefly:  the economic benefit of keeping our dollars local, in terms of both tax revenue and employment; the moral benefit of having a connection to the producers of the products we consume, which encourages conscientious production and consumption; and the social benefit of promoting a strong, tightly connected community.  Multi-localism expands that concept, connecting communities together in the same way that local consumers are tied to local producers.

Take for example Cobbs Treats, founded here in Olympia in 2013 with the goal of creating treats to fill that huge (but thankfully narrowing) gap between nutritious and delicious.  Their products continually achieve that goal:  packed with real food and nutritional value and meticulously avoiding allergens, they also satisfy even picky palates.  Consequently, they’re now distributed in 70 stores in the Northwest and growing.

Or longtime Sustainable South Sound favorite Blue Heron Bakery, which was founded on the banks of Mud Bay in 1977 and has employed generations of Greener food enthusiasts on its way to becoming an Olympia mainstay.  Today, Blue Heron granola can be found in local shops across the country as well as through food-buying cooperatives.  For many a far-flung Evergreen alum, that granola is a regular reminder of the time they spent here.

These brands (and many others in our area) maintain the values of localism as they grow, remaining conscientious custodians of their local environment, economy, and society.  On the other side of the counter, the consumer enjoys a richer experience:  they receive a higher quality product, and they experience a connection to our locale that is more intimate than anything produced by mass market production or distribution.

It’s also a feature of localism in which we can play an active role.

Small, local health-conscious groceries exist all over the place, and wherever we travel there’s likely to be one.  All of those groceries do their best to stock the best merchandise they can, and they prefer to stock products with which they have a personal connection.  As consumers, we can also be evangelists for the local products we love, helping the owners of those small groceries to form a connection that may lead to them bringing a product from our home into theirs.

As we do that, and as more local producers expand the reach of their distribution, we’ll hopefully all have more happy moments when we walk into a little shop in a town far away and find a little taste of home waiting for us on the shelf.

OlyKraut – Born in Olympia, sold all over the West. Photo by Patrick Long