Local First with Our Food
by Irv Cernauskas & Shelly Herman
Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks
Our passion for local food and love of the great people who grow it are the reasons we started Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks four years ago. We learned that this was not just our fantasy. When we asked people what they thought about our plans, support for local farmers was the single most powerful message we heard. That shared vision keeps us going in our mission to send Chicagoland’s food dollars to family farms, build our local economy and feed people great tasting healthy foods instead of siphoning profits off to global commodities conglomerates.
Illinois soil is among the most fertile on the planet. It is amazing how much great produce is grown right here. Have you tasted any local tomatoes yet this season? At Fresh Picks, close to 100% of what we offer most of the year travels just hours from the farm. In Chicago we can still eat locally even when farmers markets and CSAs are finished for the season. Storage crops, greenhouses, meat, dairy products, eggs and prepared foods help us keep more than half of our products local in even in the depths of winter.
We only go outside the region when we absolutely have to, even if local sources are not the cheapest or most convenient for us. We do offer some more tropical products like oranges and bananas so our customers don’t have to make a separate trip to the store for those items. Knowing our farmers helps us to promote food security by reducing dependence on imports and protecting us from outbreaks of food contamination that come from anonymous industrial scale agribusiness. We tell our customers the farm each local item comes from so they can know and trust how their food is grown.
Keeping our food dollars circulating in the local economy is creating jobs and bringing rural communities back to financial health. Fresh Picks is literally a mom and pop small business started right here in Chicago. We have created 20 jobs, and in 2009 generated about $600,000 in additional farm income, creating even more jobs on farms and in the rural businesses that they support. That is a Midwest economic recovery plan I think we can all get behind.
We think the debate about local vs. organic misses the point: we can have both! The local farmers we know love their land. They use organic practices that protect and restore the health of our water, air, soil and wildlife, and get a lot of satisfaction from providing healthy safe food to our customers. Many have been certified organic for years, and many more are moving in that direction. Two of our favorite farms will become certified this year.
Farmers are responding to our efforts to increase the supply of local food by planting more crops. Together we are helping to rebuild a local food community so more people can benefit from fresher, tastier, cleaner and more nutritious food, contribute to a healthier environment and offset global warming. Every meal is an opportunity to think globally and act locally!