Monday, September 24, 2007

Reetsy Reviews: Mill City Market

Not too long ago, I read that olive oil was available for sale at the Mill City Market. What's up with that? Olive oil isn't produced locally.

I went to the market to check out the olive oil situation this sping, and sure enough - Valli Dell'etna Olio di Oliva representatives were there slinging 4 varieties of olive oil. Very tasty olive oil, I might add. You might remember Valli Dell’Etna from the Strib's "The Taste 50" this past May.

Not to jump to conclusions, I asked the sales rep, Josephine Mangano, a few questions. The lowdown: Valli Dell'etna Olio di Oliva is, in fact, produced in Sicily by her family. It is then shipped to Minneapolis and distributed and marketed locally by Josephine. That's when I slammed on the brakes.

Perplexed was I because my understanding was that the Mill City Market was distinguishing itself through its mission for local foods: "Our mission is to promote local, sustainable and organic agriculture, increasing economic opportunities for farmers, urban youth, small businesses and food artisans. To offer experiential learning about and access to healthy local foods, and build a vibrant gathering place for Minneapolis residents and visitors." It's a neat little market right next to the Guthrie.

There was no question, for me, about the quality of the Valli Dell'etna olive oil. I just couldn't understand why it was being sold at a "local foods" market. "Perhaps I missed the boat entirely on this one," I thought to myself, "maybe Valli Dell'etna falls under the 'small business/food artisan' aspect of the Mill City Market mission." But I couldn't shake the feeling that Valli Dell'etna somehow didn't fit in with the rest of the local farmers and producers at the market.

I decided to see if Mill City Market had any info on their web site about their definition of local foods, but couldn't find much. I couldn't find Mill City Market's guidelines for farmers and producers on their web site either. "Perhaps the fact that the product is being distributed locally by the same family that produces it in Silicy makes Valli Dell'etna a local, small business," I speculated.

So I took some time to think about the general definition of local foods. My understanding of local foods is the standard: "foods that are produced locally." But what about a small, family operation like Valli Dell'etna? I know it's a small artisan operation, but should it be considered "local" in the scheme of things?

Sure, olive oil can be called organic, and even sustainably produced. But local?

SO...this is where I'm at now: Overall, does Valli Dell'etna's presence at the market broaden or compromise the "local foods" message of the Mill City Market?

This dialog I had (with myself and gerg) reminded me of Pollan's piece about "local" foods, "No Bar Code". He encountered an organic producer who wouldn't ship him a broiler chicken because "shipping meat all around the country" wasn't sustainable. Says Pollan, "By definition, local is a hard thing to sell in a global marketplace. Local food, as opposed to organic, implies a new economy as well as a new agriculture—new social and economic relationships as well as new ecological ones. It’s a lot more complicated."


07/23/07 UPDATE (in a message from Sandra): "I got the skinny from Marjorie who runs the Mill City Farmer's market: all of the meat and produce is guaranteed to be local but they are making exception on some specialty items, such as the olive oil. No worries on the meat/produce front though."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Marjorie from the Mill City FArmers Market again. Thanks for your thoughtful dialogue - these are the very questions we ask ourselves when approving products/vendors for the market. I wanted to add to what I told you back in 2007 - the few exceptions we have for non-local products (olive oil, coffee, salmon) are locally-owned businesses and, more importantly, are producer-direct. In each case, the products are grown or harvested by the vendor and their families. For example, our coffee bean vendor, Cafe Palmira harvests the beans from their family farm in Guatemala; similar to the arrangement you describe for Olive Oil. Thanks again for your thoughtfulness and your support of the market.