Sourcing food that’s local and sustainable may be the hottest restaurant industry trend in 2011, a sign that America’s appetite for fresh ingredients from small, regional producers continues to grow. The USDA now counts more than 6,100 farmers markets in operation nationwide, up 16 percent from 2009, with nearly 900 open during the winter months. As the locavore movement picks up steam, entrepreneurs are finding business opportunities in edible and inedible products.
For example, busy locavores can’t always get to the farmers market on a particular weekday, and they’re willing to pay a premium to have the goods delivered to them. Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks in Chicago is one of many small businesses providing an alternative to grocery shopping. For a fee, the startup offers weekly home delivery of seasonal fruits and vegetables and local meat, dairy, eggs, and baked goods. Irv & Shelly’s also sells mushroom-growing kits for the do-it-yourself crowd.
A Los Angeles couple is taking the latter concept — DIY gardening — even further with a product called the Home Grow Micro Farm. The 1- by 3-foot self-watering garden box allows urban dwellers to cultivate vegetables in their own backyards, with very little effort. “There is no doubt that you could buy broccoli at the store or at the farmers market for cheaper,” co-founder Lucas Brower recently told Mother Nature Network. “But if you have a habit of buying those plasticky $4 packs of herbs at Whole Foods — then letting them rot in the fridge only to run out and buy more the next week — the Micro Farm herb box could actually end up saving you money and a lot of plastic waste.”
The locavore movement’s popularity also appears to be a boon for industries related to food, such as publishing and consumer electronics. Several holiday gift guides this year included books by best-selling authors, such as Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, and mass-market gadgets like the NatureMill automatic composter sold at Williams-Sonoma. Not to be left out, smaller enterprises are churning out local-food tomes through independent presses or by self-publishing. Fresh & New, Tried & True by Ruth Maven of the beloved Eastside Cafe in Austin, Texas, and The Locavore Way by Amy Cotler, founding director of Berkshire Grown in Massachusetts, are recent standouts.
Meanwhile, software developers are building locavore apps for mobile devices, such as Neil Miller’s free Farmshed software on iTunes. Farmshed offers a directory of organic and sustainable family farms, regional farmers markets, natural food stores, community-supported agriculture (CSA) and buying clubs, and locavore restaurants in central New York.