Are local grocers really local?

Is produce from 800 miles away "locally grown"?

Is “local” produce really all that local? Turns out it isn’t much of the time.

Is "local" produce really all that  local? Turns out it isn't much of the time.
Is “local” produce really all that local? Turns out it isn’t much of the time.

Which grocers are the most local? You might be surprised at the answer.

It’s no mystery that shopping, eating and pretty much doing anything “local” is not only good ethics, but its also good business. You’ve seen the signs at large supermarkets touting their support of “farms in your neighborhood”, but according to a sampling of several Sonoma County markets (both locally-owned and not), “local” can mean up to 800 miles from your neighborhood.

Farmers Guild Executive Director Evan Wiig recently tallied the number of fresh local veggies (meaning from Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino and  Napa) at nine grocers, and the results were pretty interesting.

According to his survey, Healdburg’s SHED was the biggest winner with 53 products from local farms. Oliver’s came in second with 39, followed by the Sebastopol Whole Foods (38), Community Market (31), with the rest offering considerably less. Particular notice went to Safeway, which has started a large campaign to “support farms in your neighborhood”, but in his survey had the lowest number of items: 3. Wiig hopes to use his findings in this first sampling as an impetus for local grocers to step up their game. Read more about Wiig’s Grocery Store Challenge at The Farmer’s Guild Blog.

Here is Wiig’s list of products.



30 thoughts on “Are local grocers really local?

  1. Just to be clear, this article/blog is simply drawing attention to the idea of “local”. This is purely and simply an issue of economics. We can wax on about all the other issue – organic/gmo/wine – but the bottom line is this…purchasing locally produced goods, that are sold by locally owned sellers, keeps 85% of the revenue in our community. When determining “what is local” – by producer or seller – just draw circles that get bigger…my neighborhood is best, then my city, then county, then state and finally country. Anyone who understands the fallacy of “local only” – or the idea of growing everything you need from a single source, realizes that you will have to move on to the next “circle” because of the need for Specialization and Trade – but we can still BUY these things from locals. For example, G&G and Olivers are great examples of local businesses. But if you have to go outside of your “county” circle, Raleys is way more local than Safeway…it was founded and is HQ in Sacramento. That is LOCAL people. The idea is simple…buys products (not just groceries…all products) that are produced and sold in the tightest circle, then move on to the next circle as needed.

    Final thought…using the anonymity of a comment section, and calling yourself “truth”, to attack the writer for unrelated issues, makes you a boor.

    1. Clearly, Rayski and Heather do not know the history of “letters to the editor” or internet comment sections. Readers have enjoyed the option of anonymity for centuries, and this is a useful function for keeping the power and influence of the media in check. I can understand that my opinions got your underwear in a knot, but you’ll need to live with it!
      I stand by my comments and opinions. In summary, I opined that an editor and/or writer should have integrity when posting news, and mark faux news as such. Any analysis surrounding locally-sourced and local agriculture is a serious issue, whereby readers have a hunger for real fact-checked information. If I owned a supermarket in the area, I would think twice before advertising in the PD. Readers come forward like Shepard Bliss with such bias that they need to be held accountable, and their perspective opened up so that their opinions can be more persuasive when needed (i.e development of our coast for more grapes!). Grouping all wine producers together really is boorish. The issues that I raised in my comments are all inter-related.
      We should question Heather’s credentials. She claims to be a graduate from the esteemed journalism school at Northwestern University. A check on NWU website for even summer post-grad programs stresses that ethics are core. So what happened, Heather?
      I do believe that BiteClub needs to be scrapped. It’s a play off of “Fight Club” so I can sense why there is a pugilistic aspect to all this. Sort of like Go Local’s slogan of “Shift Happens”, which is a play off of “sh*t happens”…so nice to see when you walk into your favorite local restaurant.

  2. How does everyone forget about Imwalle Gardens? I know that some of their produce certainly isn’t local but its still well priced and going to a REAL local business. I will now proceed to “drop the mic”.

  3. Even though I do most of my produce shopping at the farmers markets, sometimes I need something after hours. Safeway has a wonderful “local” program happening. Not sure why the store he visited would be so different then the one in Healdsburg? Wish I could post photos. I didn’t see the words he used “local farmers” anywhere in the store, but at the front door it says, “We proudly carry over 1000 local items.” Every end cap in the store features local food producers which I think is fantastic. I counted 8 local food producers in a 2 row area and each of them had 4 to 5 different items. That’s 40 items in 2 aisles end caps. 3 of the local producers I used to buy from at the farmers market were on display in Safeway, congratulations to them! These local producers grow or buy their ingredients from local farmers. I think Safeway is doing a great job bringing local items to main stream shoppers. I love buying from my local farmers, but I just hate narrow surveys, done by small groups, aimed to reach a desired outcome. I wonder if this guild gets funding from SHED?
    They are now advertising the Press Democrat announced they have best local produce selection in 3 counties? Attention should have never been given to this amateur one sided survey.

  4. Truth, you’re welcome to reach out. I’ve already sent you an email saying just that. I’d love to have a dialogue and see how I can do better. I get that you’re passionate. Just back it up by standing up. Otherwise its just more hot air from a troll.

    1. I have operated a small fruit farm in the Sebastopol countryside for the last 24 years. According to the current GoLocal publication, last page, nearly 96% of the veggies and fruits sold in Sonoma County are imported. An important reason for this is that over 65,000 acres here are planted to wine grapes and only 12,500 to food crops. Wine has an ag. component, but it is mainly an industrial operation. SoCo is no longer really much of an ag county. It has become the alcohol capital of California. This is a threat to our food security, since wine is a classic boom-and-bust crop. When it busts, these corporate wineries, which have real estate divisions, will subdivide and sell off to the highest bidders.

  5. I am a delivery driver and deliver to all the stores listed. Im so tired of safeways campaign about local this and that, Safeway gets all of there products from there warehouse in tracy and there receiving policy’s leave no room for “local” products being delivered. and the few they do carry are marked up extremely in price compared to Olivers, G and G,and other markets. a funny note about safeways “local” items in store count that you see when you walk in is that 90% of the items counted they say are local are wine! and they count every varietal from every winery as a separate item…..

  6. Heather, so sorry, your comments speak for themselves. Contradictions and feigning ignorance just doesn’t seem right for an esteemed Northwestern journalism grad and a PD exec to boot!
    I’m no “troll”, but a 12 year veteran of the organic food sector. I studied your article, Evan’s blog, and Guild website. If we can’t count on you to cut through the BS, then who can we trust? This is a real human responsibility. You do need to work harder on your commitment to journalistic integrity no doubt.
    Thanks for the entertainment, though.
    I stand by all my observations.
    Yes, weed and food do go together 😉

  7. I can always tell when my stories are plugged hard from because I get so many comments from people who clearly don’t read the stories and are used to the idiocy of the comment threads.

    BiteClub isn’t the wild west, and I’m not a robot. I’m a person.

    1. The frustration that not more stores are covered is very valid. I agree. This was simply a sampling by Evan that I thought was interesting enough to point out. Sampling ALL local stores would be great, and I would challenge anyone out there to help me with a project of that immensity. Evan’s story was a start, and a good way to get a dialogue going (mission accomplished). More needs to happen. G+G should have been included.

    2. Please read Evan’s story that I’ve linked to. Its far more explanatory as to his methodology.

    3. As for “journalism”, I am currently working really hard on a story about local food waste. I has taken me more than a month to report. Those types of “journalism” are huge time sucks, but important. I just can’t do them all the time, nor would anyone want to read those all the time.

    The reality of the 24 hour news cycle is that all of us have to balance “quick hits” and softer news that people actually read with more enterprising stories that are important but lightly read. Page views = $. Unless folks out there are willing to PAY for a subscription to the PressDemocrat, we will continue to have to use advertising as pretty much the sole financial support. We do our very best to balance reporting with regurgitating entertainment so you’ll be getting “Best Pupmkin Pie Spice Cookies for Fall” with longer stories like the Rabbit Farm piece, or my monthly “first looks”. I work hard to find an ethical balance, and I know my comrades do as well. I have a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, and covered cops and courts for years, so I know what’s journalism and what’s not.

    4. I have no politics or financial interests here. My mission is to talk about what’s new and interesting in the North Bay food scene. I’m trying to expand that outside of just restaurants to include more producers, farmers and cider makers. I’ll win some and lose some, but that’s my only mission. I’m too broke to have a financial interest in anything.

    As to my “friends”…There are many many people i like and admire in the business and consider great acquaintances, but the people i spend personal time with socially and who actually “know” me are not in the food industry, with the exception of one of my chef buddies who is not attached to any businesses.

    I don’t even know what the Locastore is, but I’m glad someone pointed it out, because I’d love to learn more.

    5. As to the pot blog? My real job at the PD (most people do not know this) is as a digital creative manager, which means that I help set up various blogs, write for various different pubs here and design for various pubs. That’s what pays my salary for the most part — biteclub is something they “let” me do. My boss asked for a pot blog to be launched, and I helped write a few of the early posts, and will help get the writer going. I’ll contribute when I can, because I find the subject interesting. Pot + food seems a natural mix.

    IF you’re gonna trash me, please have the decency to know what you’re talking about. When I make mistakes, I try to own up to them. I’d challenge naysayers to do the same.

    One of the ONLY people who actually razzed me in the past and then decided to actually have a human conversation with me ended up being a real friend. So I’m not against criticism.

    Okay, I have real work to do, and I’ve wasted enough time on trolls. See ya in the papers.

  8. We live in Petaluma and make shopping trips to Petaluma Market, Sprouts, Raley’s, Whole Foods. Different stores have different products we buy. Most of our fresh comes from Pet Market and Sprouts. Our neighbors who grow to sell say stores pay too little so they sell only at farmers markets.

  9. How about pay for their employees? Who offers the best pay? Benefits? Full time employment? Local is good, but I’m more concerned about PEOPLE.

  10. Even farmers markets do not have only local growers. We can’t get everything year round locally because our climate doesn’t allow it.

    1. Exactly. Coffee, citrus, peaches, table grapes, avocados? Nothing local about any of those.

      They are sourced from the same places as supermarkets.

  11. I definitely agree about G&G, where we shop frequently,. Such omissions make the article short-sighted, especially when a place like SHED is included. Calling that place a grocery store is absurd…

  12. Some further refinements to earlier comments:

    RE: fruits – Evan does include Tomatoes which are technically a fruit but no apples, no pears, no berries and so on.
    Grains and herbs are included on the list.

    RE: Heather’s axe has Locastore’s name on it. She probably has a financial interest in a competitor.

    RE: West county grocers mostly, with a store or two from Healdsburg and Santa Rosa. Hardly representative of PD’s circulation. Big John’s, Lola’s, so many others missing…

    Where can we turn for real journalism covering issues like local sourcing, sustainability, organic v. simply local, and so on?

    BTW, great work on the marijuana glossary in another article…we see where your mind is at, Heather!

  13. Another example of Heather’s lazy journalism amped to spectacle by PD editors. Heather has a record of allowing friends to use Biteclub to further their political agendas, in this case Evan wants to expand “local” sourcing. PD screams “A surprising new survey looks at the number of fresh local fruits and veggie at local stores.”, when no fruit are listed on the survey, and it is really just west county. Having a roadside stand – Locastore – on a list with Oliver’s is just folly, Olivers probably sells in a morning what Locastore sells in a year (From Heather’s comments it looks like she is grinding an axe with your name on it). Heather, why don’t you do your own impartial journalism. Take locally grown apples for instance, and analyze who does or doesn’t carry local apples in season. Or why not expose Safeway or Whole Foods for the multiple ways they scam customers – Safeway for the faux local campaign, overcharges, etc., and Wholefoods for their co-mingling conventional and organic, pricing fraud and stocking GMO products for years…. This whole Biteclub concept needs to go to the worms…

  14. would have been interesting to see how the original community market behind the last record store stacked up against the barlow market. more than likely have the same vendors (veritable vegetable, et al) and many of the same local farmers who deliver produce direct to the store, but still.

  15. Wow, 10 comments and not one mentioned the Farmer’s Market. I do everything I can to avoid buying vegetables at grocery stores. We live in Luther Burbank’s “promised land.” There are markets in every town with the freshest produce available.

  16. Pretty useless. Inadequate sample size, as evidenced by the omission of G and G.

    Anybody with a little knowledge of statistics can slant a “survey” to yield the desired result that most in the media will blindly redistribute.

    1. i agree that G+G should be included. I suggested that to Evan, and though I did think that the sampling was narrow, I thought the insights were really insightful and I think that spending the time to look at so many different stores and (if you look) the number of fruits and veggies he sampled was impressive. If you read his blog, he explains his methodology, and the purpose of the survey — which is to encourage local stores to think about incorporating more local products that are actually local. As a champion of local farmers, Evan has personal knowledge of many of the farms. I know that G+G does a great job of supporting local producers (I haven’t actually sussed out their produce). You can see how Evan counted the number of local items on the chart below the comments, so i’m not sure what “stats” are being skewed.

      Would be great for someone to actually help pick up where Evan left off. That was my hope in putting this out to the community.

  17. G and G wasn’t sampled. This was a sampling by Evan Wiig of the farmers guild that primarily included West County stores

  18. Hmmm the locastore has how many local products? I thought the whole thing was hype when the PD ran the story about the woman who started the idea and how she was going to franchise it. Franchises are usually based on proof of concept – something that she obviously didn’t have back then, and going by this report above still does not have.

  19. Which grocers are the most local?

    That’s an easy one to answer:

    The ones that are located in back yards and community gardens.

    But points must be given for any grocer who is making an effort to feature locally grown produce.

    Now if we can just convince them to start featuring more, even if the apples aren’t a perfect polished red…..

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