Kei, a commenter on my blog, recently asked about what kind of produce is available these days in Kansas. A San Franciscan, she was surprised by the dearth of produce she found recently in New York compared with her home.
By way of background: The Merc, as it’s known, started back in 1974, essentially as a buyers club of health food consumers. Since those humble beginnings, it moved into a small storefront or two, then made a big jump in size in 1993 and another in 2001, when it moved to its current location, where it is just wrapping up a $1.5 million renovation. Somewhere back in the 1990s, it survived the arrival and subsequent departure of a Wild Oats. Through it all, it’s remained a cooperatively owned store.
Anyway, I strolled in this afternoon and found locally grown mesclun, sweet potatoes and chestnuts in the produce department. Normally, you’d see apples aplenty this time of year, but we had a terrible freeze in the spring that destroyed the local crop. Thanks to the Merc’s 2007 “miles to the Merc” program, it’s easy to see which products are local throughout the store.
The staff also labels the geographic source of not-local things in the produce department. Therefore, I can tell you that the winter squash was not local, as I thought it might be. Instead, it was from Colorado. Yes, it is a neighboring state, but it’s almost 400 miles from Lawrence to the Colorado state line (and I can’t say I saw many squash vines last time I crossed that line). Still, Colorado is a lot closer than California, the source of many other produce items.
Over in the meat department, there’s a plentiful supply of beef and chicken from the area, and over in dairy we have an embarrassment of riches, having a choice of local milk from just 20 miles away or organic milk from pastured cows from 160 miles distant. I’ve told you before about the local egg producers.
So, based on that quick look-see, I’d say we’re doing well here in Kansas, at least at the Merc, for fresh local food this late in the year. I should tell you, though, that Lawrence probably isn’t typical. It’s a college town, home to the University of Kansas, and it’s been bucking the mainstream for many years. There’s a Whole Foods and a Wild Oats in Overland Park, a Kansas City suburb, plus Green Acres Market in Wichita. There are probably a couple other small stores, but you shouldn’t expect to find the same thing in all the small cities in Kansas.
How's the state of fresh local food in your locale?