Anyone in northwestern lower Michigan that loves food knows the area has become a mecca for top-notch restaurants and high-quality food purveyors and farmers. It’s easy to find locally grown food available year-round, thanks in part to farmers increasing their cold storage and the use of hoop houses.
Oryana Community Co-op has played a central role in the local food movement and helped propel the practice into mainstream consciousness. “Before there was a local food movement, Oryana was the local food movement,” said Jim Schwantes, of Sweeter Song Farm, one of Oryana’s longtime organic farms. Before farm fresh, local food became popular, Oryana and food co-ops around the country placed a high priority on not only locally procured food, but organic local food, because it was fresher, supported local farmers and was more environmentally friendly.
Increased awareness of the importance of locally produced food is undeniably positive, but there is a distinction that consumers sometimes overlook between local food and sustainable food. While people tend to use local as a synonym for traits such as fresh, healthy and produced in an environmentally-sound manner, the term “local” is not defined or regulated as with words like “organic”, a term defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with strict production and labeling requirements.
Local generally means that a food was produced relatively close to where it’s sold, but it does not provide an indication of food qualities such as freshness, nutritional value, or growing practices. There is also no maximum acceptable distance from a local food’s point of production to its point of sale. Local can mean anything from within 100 miles (Oryana’s definition of local) to within the nearest several states.
Oryana prioritizes local, certified organic products, followed by non-certified local that meets Oryana’s sustainability standards. Farmers and producers must follow ecologically sound practices in accordance with organic agricultural procedures. These strict standards have even inspired some local companies to change their practices in order to be able to sell to Oryana.
As promising as it may be that local food is now a mainstream concept, Oryana encourages everyone to continue the conversation about organic practices in agriculture within the local community. For example, we can ask our farmer friends what their farming practices are. We can ask how they grow their food if they are not certified organic, how they control pests and weeds, and what kind of fertilizer they use. If they raise animals, we can ask what kind of feed they give their birds and whether their animals are grass or grain finished. These are important conversations that let farmers know that sustainability is just as important to consumers as local.
Oryana has worked for more than 40 years to achieve a quadruple bottom line: people, planet, purpose and profit. Their mission is to provide high-quality food produced in ecologically sound ways at fair value to owners and the community. Oryana owners and staff are committed to enhancing their community through the practice of cooperative economics and education about the relationship of food to health.
Oryana is located at 260 E. 10th St., in Traverse City. For more information, call 231-947-0191.