City Feed and Supply, on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, looks like the model of a local, neighborhood market. Attached to the shelves, signs point out how many miles away from the store products are made or grown: Effie’s Homemade crackers made in Hyde Park (six miles), batch ice cream from Jamaica Plain (0.9 miles). In a café up front near big glass windows overlooking Centre Street, families and friends eat hearty sandwiches and drink lattes made with fair-trade organic espresso.
“The kernel of the idea was really just a neighborhood place where you can get a wide enough selection that you could actually make meals out of it and get a cup of coffee,” said co-owner David Warner sitting in City Feed’s basement office sipping Equal Exchange coffee (based in West Bridegwater, Mass., 29.5 miles away).
Warner and his wife Kristine Cortese have been selling and sourcing local food for nearly 12 years—
first at the Boylston Street location, now at the second, larger Centre Street store. They stock over 500 local products—everything from tofu to pickles to preserves—and work with nearly 50 farms throughout the year. Because they want to be a full-service market, the ratio of national to local products is about 70 to 30 percent, Warner said, but they’re always pushing it.
As for how they define local, technically it’s any product grown, raised or produced within a hundred miles of the store, but it’s much more than that, Warner says.
“One thing I talk about, in terms of local, is the relationship between degrees of accountability and degrees of separation function. In a lot of ways, that’s what’s most important to me. When you talk about distance, it’s hard. You can’t come up with something like, ‘Well I’m going to say this is local and it’s going to mean local for everybody.’ We have a company policy of not calling a product local unless it came from within a hundred miles. But I don’t consider that to be the most important thing in terms of how I choose which products I personally patronize as a customer—which things I actually purchase. “
He gives an example of the cup of Equal Exchange coffee he’s drinking.
“For me it’s more about knowing, feeling like, ‘Okay, this cup of coffee. I’m getting it from Equal Exchange. They’re based in West Bridgewater. A lot of their employees are customers of ours. They’ve actually sponsored me and Kristine going down to visit one of the co-ops where some of the beans come from. We’ve met some of the farmers—
that kind of direct relationship where you feel like, ‘I know the people who are involved here and I know what’s at stake and I feel a personal connection to it,’
as opposed to, ‘Oh it’s got a label on it, it said it’s this,’ and take somebody’s word for it.”
He’s just like every other consumer, Warner says, in that he might be driving for awhile, stop at a rest stop and feel the urge to pick up peanut M & M’s. But that doesn’t mean he won’t think about it.
“What I would like is for everyone to just think through the whole thing—realize and accept their decision, and take responsibility for it. Like, ‘That’s what I’m doing and that’s how I think.’”
“Food should be enjoyed. Even junk food should be enjoyed. But that doesn’t preclude thinking about it. They don’t have to be separate, like ou can either think critically about your food or you can just enjoy it.”
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