Thursday, July 23, 2009

Colorado Fresh Markets Will Require Labeling of All Out-of-State Produce

I want to thank all of you who took the time to send an email and share your desire for accurate labeling at our farmers' markets. I'm happy to report that I received a very timely reply from Chris Burke, president of the Colorado Fresh Markets (reprinted below).

In short, Chris agreed to include a requirement in their 2010 contracts that vendors label all out-of-state produce. They will "monitor more closely" the labeling for the remainder of the 2009 season.

I'm glad to hear this, because I believe that consumers (especially those that take the time to shop at a farmers' market) deserve to know where their food is grown. It's great that Chris and Michele Burke are taking these steps to increase transparency at their markets. However, in order for this to be effective, we (as customers) need to help by looking for signs and pointing out when they're absent.

We're entering into a bountiful season for Colorado produce, so it's likely that much of what is at the markets in the upcoming months will be local. It is during the spring when there seems to be the highest rate of out-of-state produce appearing at the markets. I will be interested to see how the customers respond to accurately labeled food, and how frequently they will opt to purchase the items grown in Colorado versus the items that were shipped in from far away.

My guess is that many customers will prefer the local produce (and shun the Californian and Mexican produce, once they realize how non-local it is). What do you think will happen next? I believe that the farmers will start to plant more of what CAN be grown in Colorado in the spring. Lovely veggies like lettuces, spinach, arugula, cress, mustard greens, kale, collards, radishes, turnips, beets, peas, herbs, onions, garlic, etc... and the travel-weary vegetables from far away will have a less prominent place at the table.

Here's Chris' response (reprinted with his permission):

Hi Sundari,

Thank you for your letter. We couldn’t agree more. In fact we have been working on a program we hope to launch this August
that would highlight the products at Colorado Fresh Markets that are grown or made in Colorado. Although we go beyond the notions of a traditional farmers market, according to vendor applications CFM is primarily comprised of local products. We are very excited about this project and appreciate your suggestions. They are quite apropos at this time.

I was Executive Director of the
Boulder Farmers Market for 8 years in the 90’s and helped to grow that market into what it is today. I have served on agricultural boards and committees on a local, regional and national level. I am very familiar with the issues but my wife Michele and I found the Denver market to be very different from Boulder when we started Colorado Fresh Markets 12 years ago. There were many challenges. In short, we evolved CFM according to customer demand and aimed to create a viable and dynamic marketplace that truly supports local businesses and local growers with a strong and well attended food event. As growers ourselves for 18 years, the Cherry Creek Fresh Market was by far the most viable and successful retail outlet for our Burke Organic Farm products.

Your request for vendors to label the origins of their products is a reasonable request to make. Although we’ve always asked vendors to label their products (conventional vs. organic, local vs. out-of-state) and they are required to list the origins of their produce on their annual applications, we will monitor it more closely and add it as a requirement on the 2010 applications. You may not see it this year because by this time of the growing season, everything should be local. Usually, vendors only fill in at the start of the season to help the markets get up and running so that when the local produce comes in, the markets are in
full swing. We found that works best for the event and does the most to benefit the participants.

Thanks again for your comments.

Christopher J. Burke


TravelMugQueen said...

That's very cool. Congrats on the success in petitioning them. The Burkes are nice people.

Dawn said...

Congrats on your victory! I was just writing a post about your campaign when I got an e-mail from DUG with the good news!


Check out the press:

David said...

I wish you hadn't done this, it's a waste of paper, glue, ink, labor, etc., and generates an unnecessary environmental impact.

I am perfectly capable of asking, "Where was this grown?" if I care. If I don't care, labels are not going to make me care.

cfenner said...

David, it doesn't even occur to some people that produce could be shipped in from other areas. People who don't garden or aren't aware of the growing seasons don't know to ask.

There are appropriate times to use paper and other materials, and this is one of those times. It's up to those creating the signs to recycle. In addition, here is someone who saw a problem and set about to solve it. Kudos to her.

Balance in all things.

David said...

You have a low opinion of farmers market customers' intellects. But you may be more familiar with them than I.

Sundari Elizabeth said...

Great article, Dawn. I really appreciate the work of the MHBA and your "Local First" campaign. Thanks for all you do!