The Charm of Community Supported Agriculture

Next month Local First will be hosting Growers' Fare in collaboration with the West Michigan Growers Group and MSU Extension. Growers’ Fare is an expo in which anyone from the community can attend and learn about community supported agriculture (CSA). It will feature opportunities to connect with local farmers, find a CSA to support, learn what local farmers are growing, and discover new ways of using your produce. Additionally there will be presentations on health and nutrition.

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Why Support CSA?

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Last summer my husband and I, along with two close friends, decided to get a CSA share and found it was one of the best things we’d ever done. Because my husband loves to cook with fresh ingredients but doesn’t love the overpriced, low quality vegetables at the nearby chain market, this seemed like the perfect fit. Additionally, it was low cost for us. We got more vegetables than we could eat each week and we paid one price at the beginning of the season for it. Each week our friends would drive or bike to a nearby neighborhood and collect the vegetables from tables set up in a backyard. You never knew what vegetables you were getting but you knew they would be quality and that you were supporting a local farming family. The hardest part about participating in a CSA share is that it ends mid-October.

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The Real Reason to Support CSA

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Having a CSA share not only grants the community access to low-priced, quality produce, it allows local farmers to feel a sense of security and purpose in their work. Typically farmers receive payments early in the year, and by participating in CSA you’re telling farmers that you believe in them and support them even before you get your share. This notion is called “shared risk,” and results in a feeling of “We’re in this together.” Thus if you don’t get carrots one week, you will not be reimbursed because you’ve already made the commitment to support the farmer no matter what vegetables each week brings. Or if fickle weather results in a low-yielding crop, you're also sharing that risk.

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CSA offers a progressive yet old-fashioned way of engaging with your food because you always know where it coming from, who’s providing it, and you’ve made a commitment to support your farmers, who are neighbors, and who could become your friends.

Love Local

When people ask what Local First is all about, I generally share the same response: Local First is about relationships. Relationships between people. Relationships between businesses. Relationships between people and businesses and place. “Living local” is about recognizing and celebrating those connections. Intuitively, we know that relationships matter. We believe this when it comes to family and friends. But how often do we consider our interactions with strangers? Or with those with whom we do business? 

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This past winter, I read a book that’s profoundly impacted my life and my work: Love 2.0: Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection. Written by Barbara Fredrickson, a professor of psychology at the University of Northern Carolina, the book examines the way our daily interactions affect our feelings of connectedness. Fredrickson argues that “love blossoms virtually anytime two or more people – even strangers – connect over a shared positive emotion” and that love increases with a frequency of interaction. Fredrickson’s not arguing that the intimate love one shares with one’s family or friends is less valuable, but that there are an incredible number of opportunities to find meaningful joy and connection in our day to day interactions with other people.

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Reading “Love 2.0” has helped me to understand the joy I’ve experienced as I’ve shifted more and more parts of my life to “local.” A stop at my locally-owned bank isn’t just an opportunity to make a deposit; it is a chance to connect with my favorite teller – Lynn – to hear about how her kids are doing. Buying a birthday gift at my local wine shop gives me a chance to connect to the clerk – Lora – and for us to compare notes on our winter running schedules. Going local has allowed me to frequently interact with people as I tackle my daily chores – and to build moments of love and connectedness into my daily life.

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We live in an era that celebrates busy-ness. A time of extreme virtual connection and physical disconnection. But that doesn’t have to be how we live our lives. I encourage you, this winter, to transition one regular chore to “local” and to build an opportunity for kindness and connection into your everyday life. Move your money to a local bank, join a CSA or attend a year-round farmers market, grab your morning coffee at the same local coffee shop. Whatever you choose to do, build a relationship – it will be good for your happiness and health. 

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Originally published in Grand Rapids Magazine's “Living Local” column in February 2015.

Your Guide to Keeping Valentine’s Day local

Are you tired of the typical Valentine’s Day gifts and dates ideas? Here at Local First we consider ourselves pretty good gift givers. We have the scoop on all the local treasures that will make your Valentine’s Day one of a kind. Whether you want to spend your day outside in the fresh Michigan air, or sitting cozy in a local restaurant with unique and locally produced food, this list is for you! We’ve compiled all treats and special events to make this Valentine’s Day one you won’t forget.

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For the Beer Lover

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Grand Rapids Brewing Company

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Try sample beers like the Silver Foam American Lager or the Rosalynn’s Bliss Blonde Ale. Or sit down for Valentine’s Day dinner, which includes two specialty courses and an appetizer for only $30! Grand Rapids Brewing Company is sure to provide a cozy local atmosphere.

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The Mitten Brewing Company, Brewery Vivant, Perrin Brewing Company

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This Valentine’s Day, three great brewing companies are teaming up to bring you and your loved ones a spectacular event—a beer tour! Featuring samples of 12 different beers, a private brewery tour, and transportation, with a complimentary tour guide enlightened in all things beer, this event is sure to make your beer lover’s heart stop.

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For the Date Who Loves to Party

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Ice Skating at Rosa Parks

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Nothing says sweet like holding hands with your loved one in the middle of Grand Rapids at Rosa Parks. Maybe you only ice skate during the Christmas season, but what better time than Valentine’s Day to re-invent an already perfect tradition.

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The B.O.B.

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Offering a variety of live entertainment with themed drinks and dinner specials, The B.O.B is sure to be the perfect venue for the couple, group of friends, or girls night out. There will also be a complimentary photo booth, chocolate fondue, ice sculpture, and dance lessons.

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Chef’s Table

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Chef’s Table is hosting a cocktail party in which they will teach you how to make those cocktails perfect for your next soiree, all the while letting you drink and devour each drink and the accompanying “small plates.” Perfect for the girls night out or those couples who love to host together.

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For the Lover of Sweet Treats

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Aperitivo

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Are you interested in doing something different than the typical chocolate and wine?

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Drop into Aperitivo and pick up their special cheese tray for two! Serving items like meats, cheese, figs, honey, olives, and crackers.

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Robinette’s Apple Haus and Winery

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Robinette’s will be hosting a “Love Wine and Chocolates” event on February 14th from 1pm-5pm. The event includes a chocolate snacking bar and wine tasting. $10 per couple.

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Art of the Table

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Is your loved one smitten with the kitchen? Art of the Table is your source for things kitchen, with speciality bouquets of kitchen tools, themed mugs and cups, and traditional beer, hot chocolate, as well as unique chocolates.

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Perfect Gift Ideas:

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Metal Art Studio

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Hand crafted, one-of-a kind jewelry to fit the loved one who enjoys unique and timeless pieces. 

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Sweetlands Candies

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Homemade candies by people who are passionate about the art of candy making. Serving Michigan for over 90 years, Sweetland is your source of unique chocolates.

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Eastern Floral

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Do you want to keep things a bit traditional this year but still deliver something original? Eastern Floral is there for you. Offering fun gifts like the Valentine’s Beer City basket and the True Love Valentine’s Day package, Eastern Floral can meet your needs while still presenting something different.

Local First hosts luncheon with farm-to-table pioneer

The term farm to table didn’t even exist when local food movement pioneer Judy Wicks opened the White Dog Café in Philadelphia in 1983.

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Wicks began her restaurant using locally sourced produce and within a decade, began incorporating locally sourced and humanely raised meat products as well.

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Wicks will be in town to deliver a presentation and sign copies of her book at a Local First luncheon this Friday.

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Advent of farm-to-table

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“When I was growing up, my parents had a fairly substantial vegetable garden, and we also lived in a small town that had a lot of small farms around us,” Wicks said. “We would go to the farm stands all the time and eat from our own garden. That is how I was raised. So without even knowing that a local food movement was about to happen, I just decided that was what I wanted for my new restaurant.”

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Wicks said it was easy to source locally grown produce, but finding the meats for her restaurant was a little bit more challenging, and it took more time to build the relationships needed to supply the restaurant.

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“Most of our organic fruit and vegetable farmers had nothing to do with animal production, but one did, and he was the link,” Wicks said. “We were getting free-range pastured chicken and eggs from him, and we asked about pigs. . . . He had a business as a middle man for some of the farms out in Lancaster County, and he would buy products from other farmers and resell them.”

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As White Dog Café switched to more locally sourced and humanely raised animal products, the restaurant spent a lot of time focused on educating its customers on the differences and the reasons for the slightly higher menu prices.

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“We did a lot to try and educate our customers, so they would understand why it did cost more,” she said. “We would have dinners, the Farmer Sunday Supper, where farmers would come and talk to customers about their farms.”

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Wicks said initially she saw what she was doing as giving her a competitive edge, but eventually she realized if she really cared about the reasons behind what she was doing, she needed to share with her competitors.

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“I moved from being a competitive business person to a cooperative one,” Wicks said. “We saw buying from local farmers as our competitive advantage, our niche, because we were the only restaurant doing it to the extent that we were.

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“But then I realized if I really did care about the animals and environment and consumer health, that I would not keep this as my competitive advantage, but rather would share the supplier information with my competitors. That was the real turning point.”

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Continuing farm-to-table

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Today, the farm-to-table movement is in full swing, and Wicks said she’s excited to see how mainstream it’s become.

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“It's very inspiring to see how many restaurants now have at least something on their menus that are from a local farm, and many of them are advertising themselves as farm-to-table restaurants,” she said. “We didn’t even have that terminology back then.”

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Wicks has since sold the White Dog Café, but she made sure the restaurant would continue as a locally sourced venture.

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“I put the trademark for the name White Dog Café into my personal ownership, which I maintain ownership of, and then I sold the corporation without the name,” she explained. “Then I licensed the name to the new owners with a social contract that requires them to buy from local farmers and use only humanely raised meats.”

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Local First luncheon

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Wicks will speak on Friday at the Local First luncheon being held in Grand Rapids, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at Bistro Bella Vita, at 44 Grandville Ave. SW.

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Her presentation — “Building a New Economy: What’s Love Got to Do with It?” — will include information about her journey operating the White Dog Café, as well as the importance of balancing male and female energy in business.

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“In general, I talk about bringing masculine and feminine energy into balance in our economy and decision making,” Wicks said. “Not speaking of gender, but the masculine and feminine energies that are in all people. A farmer once said to me, ‘Successful farming is the balance between the feminine and the masculine,’ which he saw as nurturing and efficiency.

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“If you have too much efficiency and not enough nurturing, you may have a well-run farm, but you’re not going to have a good product. If you have too much nurturing and not enough efficiency, you might have beautiful tomatoes, but you are going to go out of business, because you aren’t using your time wisely.”

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Her book

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Wicks will also be signing copies of her award-winning memoir “Good Morning, Beautiful Business: the Unexpected Journey of an Activist Entrepreneur and Local Economy Pioneer.”

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The book won the gold medal for business leadership from Nautilus National Book Awards in 2014.

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Registration

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Tickets to the luncheon are between $15-$25 and can be purchased via the Local First website.

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Read original article here by Charlsie Dewey. 

Eating our way towards climate change

It has been well over two decades since I first learned about photosynthesis. And, in truth, I haven’t thought about it much since then (withstanding the need to make sure my home garden and houseplants receive enough light and water). I’d forgotten that through photosynthesis, plants pull nutrients from the air down into the soil – that one of the primary things they pull is carbon – and that having more carbon in the soil builds even better soil, which strengthens a plant and encourages it to grow more healthy, nutrient-dense food. And that many chemical fertilizers block this natural cycle from happening – so we have more carbon in the air and less in the soil.

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Somehow, as an adult, all of these things seemed disconnected to me: a plant’s natural need for light and sun, the regular habit of manually adding organic matter to my garden soil to make it nutrient rich (with the assumption that plants couldn’t make the soil rich enough on their own), and an overwhelming amount of carbon in the air/atmosphere causing climate change.

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I’d forgotten until I spent this past weekend taking a “crash course” at TomKat Ranch. BALLE convened a small group of localist leaders, farmers, ranchers, scientists, and healthcare professionals to brush up on photosynthesis and to learn about ways that sustainable agriculture and the local food movement could help mitigate climate change and provide more nutrient dense foods.

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When I think about preventing climate change, I tend to think about reducing the use of fossil fuels, creating new technologies, etc. I’ve thought about “eating local” as a means to support local farmers, our local economy, and to reduce the impacts of transportation (fossil fuel use). I’d not thought about sustainable local agriculture as the primary means of fighting climate change. And from what I learned this last weekend, it very well may be. The food choices we make and the farmers we support are critically important, not only on the micro level in our communities and economies, but at the macro level without atmosphere and ecosystem. Just another (great) reason to eat local.

Local First names LocalMotion Award winners

Local First has named the winners of its LocalMotion Awards.

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Local First in Grand Rapids said that last night it named the winners of its fifth-annual LocalMotion Awards in Grand Rapids at the Goei Center.

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The awards recognize and celebrate local people and organizations making a difference in the community’s sustainability, vibrancy and resiliency.

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The awards by the nonprofit Local Firstwere given in several categories: Guy Bazzani Local Legacy; Change Agent; Local Hero; Mover & Shaker; Triple Bottom Line, Longstanding Business; and Triple Bottom Line, Up & Coming Business.

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Guy Bazzani Local Legacy Award

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Bing Goei, Eastern Floral and Goei Center (named earlier this month)

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The lifetime-achievement award honors an individual or organization that has demonstrated unceasing commitment to the Local First mission.

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Change Agent Award

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The Rapid for its Silver Line

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The award honors an organization that's growing and has made a notable contribution to revitalizing a neighborhood or corridor.

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“The Silver Line is just the latest addition to The Rapid's network of nearly 30 routes running throughout the heart of the community,” Local First said. “This transportation asset provides an affordable option for all Grand Rapidians to reach their place of employment or their favorite local treasures. An active supporter of the local community, The Rapid’s mission is to create and continuously improve a flexible network of regional public transportation options and mobility solutions.”

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Local Hero Award

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Tami VandenBerg, The Pyramid Scheme and The Meanwhile

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The award honors a person or family who has made an impact in purchasing local products and in sustainable living.

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“Pyramid Scheme, a downtown hub for local music, art and entertainment of all kinds, and The Meanwhile, a neighborhood bar that convenes students, film buffs, poets and East Hills residents, have both received some impressive refurbishments this year — most notably, the addition of solar panels on their respective roofs,” Local First said. “In addition, Tami is the executive director of Well House . . .  (which) provides safe and low-cost housing to the homeless. These ventures are a true reflection of Tami’s core values and the ways she and her family lead their daily lives.”

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Mover & Shaker Award

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Butch's Dry Dock, Holland

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The award honors a business that supports local supply chains.

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“The original iteration of Butch’s was a carry out wine and beer shop, which evolved into a deli and eventually became one of the finest restaurants in Michigan,” Local First said. “They have repeatedly received awards on their extensive and carefully curated international wine and beer selection, and they continue to raise the bar as they grow. As the local food movement has begun along the lakeshore, Butch’s has led the way in shifting their hiring practices, food sources and beverage selections in order to localize the restaurant’s offerings.”

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The Triple Bottom Line, Longstanding Business Award

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Lemonjello's Coffee, Holland

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The award honors a business strongly committed to improving the local economy, environment and society.

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“(Owner Matt Scott’s) passion for protecting the environment led the shop to become waste free and to develop a model that other businesses seek to emulate,” Local First said. “Lemonjello’s prides themselves on homemade baked goods, locally roasted coffee, from our very own Madcap, and genuinely friendly, knowledgeable service.”

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The Triple Bottom Line, Up & Coming Business Award

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Rapid Green Group, Grandville

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The award honors a two-to-five-year-old business that is also strongly committed to improving the local economy, environment and society.

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“Rapid Green Group has made it possible for businesses in West Michigan to be a leader in sustainable business practices,” Local First said. “After seeing gaps in the availability of waste removal, Rapid Green Group now offers shredded paper recycling, clean refuse disposal, multi-stream commercial recycling and, for the first time in West Michigan, medical waste removal, making Rapid Green Group the most versatile waste management resource in Michigan.”

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Read original article here.