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The Economics of Local Food

Dec 15 2:44 pm

In light of the announcement of Somerville’s new Winter Farmers Market we invited community blogger Rachel Leah Blumenthal of Fork It Over, Boston! to share her wealth of knowledge on the local food economy. Rachel wrote this article for her master’s degree capstone project at Boston University’s Center for Science and Medical Journalism. This is an excerpt; please follow the link at the bottom of the post to read the full article.

Meat Meet Lamb Chops

Lamb chops from the Meat Meet

At 4:30 on a gray November afternoon, I stood alone in a parking lot near Central Square in Cambridge, warily waiting for a van. When it arrived, the driver swung open the back doors to reveal a refrigeration unit filled with coolers. Inside, I saw pork butt, lamb chops, liverwurst, pigs’ legs - meat of all kinds, neatly packaged in airtight plastic with printed labels. My apprehension lessened as others arrived and began to purchase meat.

This was a “Meat Meet,” a sporadic, unofficial version of a Community-Supported Agriculture program (CSA) organized by JJ Gonson, a private chef and “locavore,” and Katie Stillman, owner of Stillman’s at the Turkey Farm in Hardwick, a tiny town 20 miles west of Worcester. Several times a month throughout the winter, a Stillman’s van arrives at a pre-determined drop-off spot, and anyone can come and buy meat.

Word spreads mainly by mouth; I learned of the Meat Meet that very morning thanks to a vague message posted by Gonson on Twitter. It was the first Meat Meet of the season, and only five people, including me, showed up. The others stocked up on several meals’ worth of meat, but I just bought four lamb chops and prepared them for dinner that night. They were probably the most delicious lamb chops I had ever eaten.

This is what eating local food is all about - sometimes it takes a little bit of foraging to find it. From farmers markets to Meat Meets to CSAs (programs where you buy shares of a farm in exchange for produce), it can take a lot of time and effort to find, purchase, and cook exclusively local products.  Cost is a big issue as well: local food has earned the reputation of being an elitist movement, only available to those who can afford it. But when we stop looking at the prices solely from the consumer’s standpoint, it’s clear there’s a bigger picture.

Production costs, labor costs, and many other factors go into that number on the price tag, and though we’re used to seeing the artificially low prices that come out of the industrial food system, we can come to accept the “high” prices of food coming out of our local small farms as we examine the intangible benefits that those prices include. As Boston’s local food movement grows, the issues of affordability and accessibility will become more complex. However, a mix of policy changes, education, and cooperation between producers and consumers can lead to a better food system that benefits everyone.

Continue reading here.

3 Steps For Less Stress This Holiday Season Somerville Style

Dec 14 10:47 am

The following post is from community blogger Alison Preston. Alison is a writer, yoga instructor, wellness enthusiast and practicing Buddhist. She tweets under @stretchnbreathe (wellness) and @themoxstopshere. You can check out her other exploits at

As the year draws to a close, our schedules become full with buying gifts, attending parties, and family obligations. The body becomes overworked and the mind less focused. While the holidays are a season of giving, it is especially important to give ourselves the gift of good health. Below are three ways to rejuvenate and stay balanced through the entire holiday season.

True GroundsA cup of herbal tea is a quick, inexpensive way to rebalance. Head over to True Grounds Café and Coffeehouse in Ball Square and try the Herbal Chai Spice tea. While the tea is steeping, take a moment to smell and take in the combination of scents.  The Rooibos base boosts your immune system with a mini-dose of antioxidants, while the ginger, cardamom and cinnamon warm the body and are beneficial for the digestive system. Because the Herbal Chai Spice uses Rooibos instead of black tea, there’s no caffeine buzz. The Herbal Chai Spice is available to drink in-house as well as for purchase by the ounce. True Grounds is located in Ball Square at 717 Broadway in Somerville.

To stretch your muscles and clear your mind after hours of shopping, try the Restorative Flow class at Be. in Union Yoga. Restorative Flow uses calming and soothing poses that encourage the release of physical and emotional stress. Julia from Be. in Union shares the benefits of  yoga during the winter season:

B. in Union Yoga“The days are getting colder, the body tightens up and people let themselves go. It is very important to take time out. The Restorative Flow class moves slower, poses are held longer, and there are twists and breathing exercises to cleanse the body. The class helps to restore body from all that you’ve done.”
Restorative Flow is offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:45pm – 9:00pm. You can find Be. in Union at 11b Bow Street above Bloc 11 Cafe.

During the winter season our immune system can also take a toll. If you start to feel the pre-winter bug coming on, instead of filling the body with over-the-counter remedies, try acupuncture to bring the body back to optimum health. Sheryl Sarokas, licensed acupuncturist and owner of Union Square Acupuncture offers advice for the season:

“As the holidays approach our stress levels will inevitably increase as our schedules get more hectic.  This can have many negative effects on your body such as lowering your immune system, headaches, digestive problems, weight gain and the list goes on.  Union Square Acupuncture has a 30-minute Stress-Buster acupuncture treatment that can be extremely effective for calming your mind and reducing stress levels. This treatment is perfect for those who need a little time out from the chaos or for those who just want to try acupuncture. Throughout December, we are offering this treatment for $35 ($10 off).  Acupressure is also one of the best ways to release tension.  It is easy to self-administer and similar to acupuncture, it stimulates key points on the body to promote the flow of energy in the body. Yintang is one of my favorite points to calm the body, relieve stress, and to treat frontal headaches.  The location is on the forehead,
Union Square Acupuncturemidway between the medial ends of the two eyebrows.  Some call this point your third eye. Holding your palms together in prayer position, lift them to your forehead.  Using your middle and index fingers, gently touch your third eye between the eyebrows.”

Union Square Acupuncture is located at 21 Bow Street in Union Square.

Have a favorite Somerville “go to” spot for relieving your holiday stress? Let us know in the comments!

Shopping locally, joyfully and mindfully

Dec 10 12:02 pm

(Michael Kanter is really one of my favorite people, though an outside observer watching one of our conversations, riddled with lovingly acerbic New England wit and mocking, might find that hard to believe.  Michael is a leader, a business owner and one of the key people in New England when it comes to authenticity of the movement.  I’m glad to have him as a partner in this work, and was inspired by reading his thoughtful message here.  I hope you will be as well.  ~ Joe, SLF)

by Michael Kanter

We all have heard that this time of year is often critical for the success of many businesses. But why should anyone care? Those businesses made their own decisions to open their doors, why should I worry myself about their success? And what can my purchases do to help those businesses? Besides, I need to watch my own finances carefully especially in this economy. And, what difference is it if they stay in business or not? All of these are actually and seriously important questions.

First I want to make the distinction of what businesses I believe deserve your greatest support. Full disclosure, I am the co-owner, with my wife Elizabeth Stagl, of Cambridge Naturals which we started and have owned for 37 years. That noted, I assume that if you are reading this you are likely at least aware of and perhaps a supporter of the “local movement” and in particular that you are aware of the benefits to your community of spending your dollars at locally owned and independent businesses. So, of course, I am suggesting that this season, like all seasons, you mindfully and intentionally make your gift purchase at such businesses.

Michael has also been instrumental in helping Cambridge Local First and Somerville Local First develop a strong working relationship

As the news of a very challenging economy continues to circulate many of us have gotten very nervous about our savings, our jobs, our homes and our communities. And many of us worry about our friends and loved ones for the same reasons. The daily papers (what’s left of them, anyway), the radio and tv news, internet updates, etc., etc. rarely feature anything positive that is happening in the world or even our communities. Quite the contrary; open up or turn on any of those sources and it seems to be all bad news all the time.

I am not here to argue that there is not enough ugly and destructive “stuff” happening. I am suggesting, however, that the local movement in all its ramifications is one of the very brightest and most optimistic movements to “come down the pike”. Furthermore, I suggest that joyfully supporting (read: shopping at) your locally owned and independent businesses is one of the ways you can directly participate in this positive movement for social change.

Here’s why.

Most of us who have opened such businesses have done so with the intention of offering the community products and services that are unique and we are thrilled to be part of the fabric of our towns and regions. A mere fraction of us have set out to “get rich” (and of those few that did, very few succeed).

Further, few entrepreneurs have thoughts or plans of attempting to build our businesses in ways that would take us out of our communities such as franchising or other growth concepts that would make us less active and direct participants in our place.

In fact, in my long retail experience in this area, I am really impressed with the activism and involvement of locally owned and independent business owners and managers in supporting non-profits and in truly being honorable members of the communities where we work and often live.

As well, the existence of unique locally owned and independent businesses is part of what makes our towns attractive to residents and visitors alike. And, yes let’s remember those studies that show that so many more dollars that are spent at independent community businesses have the power of staying in the area and strengthening our communities.

Most if not all of us have people we want to buy gifts for at this time of year and most if not all of us have limits to our budgets. Just like our local and state and national governments need to be mindful of spending we all wish to be mindful of not going beyond our “comfort levels” or beyond our budgets.

My suggestion is this: It is to all our benefit if we consciously and very intentionally purchase such gifts from businesses that are in our communities because they have chosen to be there for the good of the community…as well as to make a honest living.

Let’s also be very clear about what is at stake. Your community businesses simply can not survive without your support. Though many are thriving, many are facing the same challenges that individuals and local governments are. Some are truly hurting. Your active support is vital for their financial survival and as importantly for the morale of the owners and staff alike.

Shifting your Shopping for the Holidays gives multiple gifts

Your thoughtful holiday purchases have much more power than you may realize.  Buy joyfully!  By making those purchases, you are giving a real gift to those businesses while helping to build a strong local economy.

Some may call this “win, win”…I call it community, community.

Letter from The Weekly Dig: The Aftermath Black Friday vs. Plaid Friday

Dec 08 12:11 pm

The following letter comes from David Day, Arts and Entertainment Editor for The Weekly Dig:

The Weekly Dig Local Holiday Shopping Guide

Dear Reader,

By most accounts, Black Friday was a stunning success. According to the National Retail Federation, 212 million people shopped, up from 195 million last year. The Buy Local movement of “Plaid Friday” was equally successful, with #plaidfriday becoming a top trend on Twitter. And, at a Target in Buffalo, N.Y. a few people were almost trampled to death.

But what does the rush to buy cheap sh*t say about the economy at large?

It could well be that the frenzy caused by incredible discounts are in fact a result of people having less money. We are incredibly broke, so the need to maximize our shopping dollar is more important than ever.

Of course, your friendly Dig staff is encouraging you to maximize your shopping dollar in a different way: by spending it with your neighbor. We have been pounding the “buy local” bush since our inception, in a way, but this year, and every year for the time being, buying local is really, honestly, super important. Are you following through?

If you need help, turn to our annual shopping guide, where the hard-working tandem of Courtney Cox and Taylor Seidler bounced around town getting the scoop from some of our favorite local shops. We have 25 days until the … special … day … or week (or month), so time is of the essence. There’s also a showcase of three stores for those ski bunsters among you.

Here’s a thought: Use our guide to buy something. There’s a lot to choose from, all of it local and relatively inexpensive. Your aunt doesn’t need a new flat-screen to watch Dr. Phil—she needs an airplant.

Tell them the Dig sent you.

Cook Local for the Holidays: Where to Buy Locally Sourced Ingredients in Somerville and Cambridge

Dec 07 11:16 am

JJ Gonson

Having trouble finding local ingredients for your upcoming holiday feast? Today on the Somerville Local First blog JJ Gonson, Gourmet Chef Extraordinaire of Cuisine en Locale and co-founder of Cambridge Community Kitchen, gives us the inside scoop on where to buy the best fresh local food items:

When the farmers markets begin to close all around us it means that finding local food will go from a bit of work to a downright chore.  Happily, as awareness is growing about the value of eating food produced close to home, so the demand is making availability easier.  There is no simple solution to the winter food acquisition dilemma, but I think it is in the finding that the best experiences are had.  Here is a round up of places I like to go when I am on the hunt:

Let’s start with markets; places that are there, and don’t move about, or have irregular hours:

Sherman Market 22 Union Sq in Somerville

The market arm of the excellent Sherman Cafe, this is our “local market” where everything is sourced from local producers.  Winter items of particular interest here are root veggies, maple sugar, oats, whole wheat bread flour, and a full selection of dairy goods and delicious local kimchee from Lion’s Share Foods

Formaggio Kitchen 244 Huron Ave in Cambridge

Formaggio is a luxury market, rather than a local-centric one, but still an excellent place to gather local cheeses, crackers, beer, honey and some produce, just ask if it is local, they will be happy to tell you.  I could not live without cheese.  Some of my current faves are Bayley Hazen Blue, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and Ascutney.  We call Ascutney the Brangilina of the cheese world.  It’s a sort of aged gouda/cheddar marriage- absolutely gorgeous!

Savenor’s Market 92 Kirkland St in Cambridge and 160 Charles St in Boston

Always the “best on the block” for the highest quality (aka most delicious) meats, a recent understanding of the benefits of local meat has made them even more dilligent about sourcing and carrying a dependable supply of excellent meats and eggs from the area.  Try the Double J Farm beef!

The Harvest Cooperative Market 581 Mass Ave in Central Sq, Cambridge

This is an open Coop, so anyone can shop there.  I wouldn’t suggest you go there for meat, but they do have an excellent bulk department, and they carry many local grocery items such as Teddy’s Peanut Butter (as local as peanut butter can get- if you cannot live without PB, and my hubby cannot, this is the locavore’s acquiescence),

Market Basket 400 Somerville Ave, and all over MA and NH.

Yes, you read that right, Market Basket.  There isn’t a huge number of items I will buy at this Tewksbury MA business, but they do have the big name local stuff at a good price, so I go here to stock up on Kate’s Butter, Cabot Cheese and Stoneyfield Farms Milk, plus they have a lot of the organic cleaning stuff I like to use.  I don’t go often, and never after 10am, for fear of being mowed down by a tiny woman dressed entirely in black driving a shopping cart like it is the Grand Prix.

Other ways I get stuff I can’t get at those markets:

For meat, mostly, I buy direct from my friends at Stillman at the Turkey Farm.  For the next couple of weeks they are going to be at the Holiday Market at Downtown Crossing every day.  EVERY DAY!  Wow, that is almost easy!  You can send an email ([email protected]) or call them ahead if you want them to bring you anything special.  They are very accommodating about that.  In addition, I organize something called a Meat Meet with Kate on a regular basis.  There isn’t much to it.  The truck shows up and you dig through the coolers, or you can order ahead of time by posting a comment below the blog posting about the upcoming Meet.  It’s a little rustic, but it’s been working for us for a few years now, so you know what they say about things that ain’t broke.  The next Meat Meets are on the 18th of December- the first is from 2:30-3:30 at Harvard Law School, in the Pound Parking Lot, the second is from 4:30-5:30 in the parking lot behind Quest Diagnostics in Central Sq, at about 47 Bishop Allen Drive.  Keep track of upcoming Meat Meets by signing up for the Stillman email list, or checking my blog.

There still is no real year round farmers market in the Somerville/Cambridge area.  Not, to be honest, in the whole greater Boston area, even!  But there is a lot of movement in the direction of creating one, and no one has done more to get there than Shape Up Somerville, who will be holding a winter farmers market every Saturday from 10-2pm, at the Somerville Armory, from January 8- March 26 2011

Once a week there is a new service called Farmers To You coming from Vermont, and bringing down stunning and very well priced products, direct from those farms.  I cannot emphasize how much like this company- they are solid people on a mission, and you can find them in a number of places which is growing regularly as demand increases. The Misty Knoll chickens are deeeelicious, and I’ve never seen them at a better price- nice!

Enterprise Farm Share CSA

Finally, if you are interested in a winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture share- a predetermined selection of food you buy into in advance and get a share of weekly/bi-weekly) you can still get in on the action with the Red Fire Farms and Enterprise Farms food programs, both available through Metro Pedal Power in Somerville.  Red Fire are bringing the storage foods they grew- lots of gorgeous roots and cabbages.  Enterprise are consolidating foods from where they are in the Pioneer Valley, as well as something referred to as the “East Coast Food Shed”, which means that they bring foods from as far South as FL, like amazingly delicious, candy sweet, small grove, organic pink grapefruits.  You can talk to the fine folks of Metro Pedal Power about what is on offer, and they can arrange to deliver it to you, by bicycle, if pick up is inconvenient.

Yes, the opportunities are out there, and with some planning and some running about, it really is still possible to eat local.  Thanks for making the effort- the farmers really appreciate it!

Happy Holidays, and I hope to see you out there in the mix, hopefully over a cup of local eggnog,

xo JJ and Cuisine en Locale (locavore personal chefs, cooking and blogging about it at

Dec 04 6:06 pm

Filed under: Local First — SLF @ 6:06 pm

The Somerville Trading Post

Nov 30 11:02 am

If you’ve already shifted your shopping and moved your money, but you still want to live even more locally, check out the Somerville Trading Post. As you’ll discover if you visit their unassuming website, this venture started out as a way to share bountiful harvests with neighbors. It has since grown into a year-round opportunity to trade your produce - whether edible or hand-crafted - for other goods. Books, clothing, toys: anything someone might find value in is fair game.

Salsa and Brussels Sprouts

The Trading Post convenes approximately once a month (last Sunday was the November meeting). The organizers are hoping to continue through the winter (hooray for root vegetables and wool mittens!), but they’re still looking for a venue.

You never know what you might find . . .

An Exciting Find!

Bartering may seem foreign, but there’s nothing more neighborly than sharing gardening/crafting/canning tips with interested listeners, and nothing that builds community like chatting about knitting over hot chocolate. We’re not advocating an end to cash transactions; we just appreciate the relationship-building intrinsic to barter-based business.

As you gear up for holiday shopping, consider adding yourself to the Somerville Trading Post mailing list so you don’t miss out on the next opportunity to give and receive.

Filed under: Community Bloggers, Local First — Tags: — SLF @ 11:02 am

Reflections in Plaid

Nov 26 4:54 pm

by Joe Grafton

Well…that was interesting.

As the afternoon winds down on the day after Thanksgiving, I’m left to reflect on the whole Plaid Friday experience. I guess, if anything, it reaffirmed my belief in what we’re doing and injected new energy into our work.

It was surreal, hearing this Radio Boston piece comparing Plaid Friday to Small Business Saturday.  I’m no journalist, and a Google search turned up nothing, but I would guess AMEX has to have millions invested in that campaign.  And yet, here is the host asking which one will ‘stick’.  As you’ll see below, Plaid Friday came to New England with a much less resourced, but maybe as effective, approach.

Plaid Friday, if you have yet to hear, was created last year by local business owners and organizers in Oakland.   You can listen to one of the creators on WBUR’s Here and Now .  What I think is so amazing is that without any truly organized or staffed group trying to promote it or pitch it, communities all over the nation adopted the concept and set it free into their communities.

And the buzz, to me at least, looked serious.

The idea came to New England through sister organization Seacoast Local’s Karen Marzloff and SLF blogger and good friend of mine, Jody Colley of the East Bay Express.  Both amazing entrepreneurs from the independent alt weekly media, they also both work closely with their local business networks.  From there, Karen shared the story at our regional gathering of networks, which spawned the 10% Shift 2 years ago among other things.

And that was it.  Networks representing thousands of businesses agreed (NELBF), on the spot, to organize our own communities and work together to spread the Shift Your Shopping / Buy Local campaign throughout the holiday season. The four members of the Steering Committee (we’re really excited to see that number grow to 7 in 2011!) Laury Hammel & Stacy Mitchell (authors of the Op-Ed piece this week), Karen & I had a conference call on November 6th where we hashed out a plan for Plaid Friday promo in New England.

The Op-Ed, the social media campaign, the PR…all of it came together as just one of the many things all of us are responsible for in our burgeoning, yet vastly under-resourced, networks.

And what does this really mean? Well, as wonderfully amazing as the people in the local movement are, I’m not sure that a fraction of our collective time is the equivalent of hundreds (thousands?) of hours of professional manpower and potentially millions of dollars that AMEX put towards their campaign.

What I do think it says, however, is that the tipping point for ‘local’ is getting ever closer. That the work we’ve been putting in locally in our communities is paying off.  That you: our readers, followers, advocates and evangelists, are talking to your friends and redefining social and cultural norms. That the Shift is starting to ‘sink in’ in our communities. And that we, the people, do have some power left in this society and exercising it can actually be fun and feel good. Two great matches for the holiday season.

As I was writing this blog post, I saw this come across my screen:

Plaid Friday trending on Twitter

Plaid Friday trending on Twitter...nice allegory

Trending on Twitter in Boston ~ #PlaidFriday is on that list and, while Black Friday is #1, its promoted.

One day, I hope, the work done by local networks will get the support from all sectors that it should.  We’ll be able to dedicate full time resources to campaigns like Plaid Friday, offer even more support and promotion for our members and continue to build on the idea that if we all come together, as a community, that we can make the world a better, more sustainable place.

But until then, we’ll keep trying things.  Some will be a hit,  others will not.  And when we find something that works, like Plaid Friday, you better believe we’ll do it better the second time around.  Plaid Friday Nationwide, from the grassroots…coming November, 2011.


Plaid Friday is simply the START of the Holiday Shopping Season, please Shift Your Shopping this year.  Shop-A-Palooza and Midnight Madness comin atcha next week!

Filed under: Local First — SLF @ 4:54 pm

Shift Your Shopping This Holiday: A Somerville Local First Member’s Perspective

Nov 24 11:16 am

Grand Home Goods and Apparel

Today’s post comes from Somerville Local First member Jon O’Toole, owner of Grand in Union Square. While you might be swayed by the deep discounts of big box Black Friday promotions, Jon weighs in on the importance of thinking local for your holiday shopping list. In support of the Plaid Friday movement, take a moment to read Jon’s thoughts on the matter:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Or at least that’s what Andy William says. Right?

Well this year, as a small business owner, all I can say is that depends. See 2010 has been a hell (sorry Santa) year to own a small business. From restaurants to retail and lawyers to landscapers this recession has really made it’s mark on each of us.

But, we can change that and make that old Andy Williams song ring really true with one simple act. Shift Your Shopping and shop locally and independently this holiday season. It’s literally easy as that.

Why you ask? Well mostly because shopping locally keeps money within OUR community. To illustrate this powerful fact look towards one of the many, many studies backing this up check out Somerville Local First’s Economic Studies on the Buy Local and 10 Percent Shift Movements. As you can see when you spend your money locally at a small/independent business your spend really makes a difference. Plus, it just feels right.

Study schmudie you say? Here’s a simpler more immediate reason for those of us in the Somerville business community. We need it. Small/independent businesses need the local community like no time in the past. Your dollars matter more than you can imagine this year. Each of you reading this can sincerely make a powerful statement with your wallet. Believe it!

I leave you with one simple request:

Just think about shopping locally this year. I’m not talking you have to do all your shopping at a small business, but maybe think about taking the 10% Shift and Shift Your Shopping just a tiny bit. It’s these baby steps that day after day, month after month, and year after year that will make Somerville even more great than it is today.

Jon O’Toole owner of Grand

Plaid Friday Videos are Here!

Nov 23 2:12 pm

We’re really excited to have some promotional videos for Plaid Friday this year (There’s also a great one coming for Shop-A-Palooza soon).  First and foremost, thanks to Michelle Alford for volunteering her time to create these for the movement.

We would love for our followers to post, like and share these as much as possible over the next week.  We know everyone is busy, but there is no time like the present to remind our friends and neighbors about the importance of shopping locally this holiday season.

Go Plaid this Friday - design by Truly Good Design

Go Plaid this Friday - design by Truly Good Design

Michelle is a writer, editor, marketer, and creator. Her weekly (or occassionally monthly) vlogs can be found here:

So, with no further ado, the Plaid Friday Video Promos!

Filed under: Local First, Shift Your Shopping, The Movement, Video — Tags: — SLF @ 2:12 pm
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