Amazonification has hit our local food system in the Truckee/Tahoe area, and the local food movement here is dead. As a longtime high-elevation farmer at Sierra Valley Farms and local food activist, I see a detrimental decline in restauranteurs, chefs, and locals buying fresh produce from our local farmers and ranchers — because we’re not cheap, convenient, or consistent.
What is local? Buying local is within your community, 2 to 10 miles away. Why, when we talk locally grown farms, does the metric often jump to 100 to 150 miles? We can grow everything they can! From Truckee/Tahoe, what is often considered “local” is: Vallejo, 150 miles away; Chico, 130 miles; Sacramento, 100 miles; Stockton, 140 miles; Auburn, 75 miles. So why are locals not buying locally sourced produce and meats from our high-elevation farms and ranches like Little Roots Truckee, 5 miles from town; Prema Farms and Girlfarm, Sierra County, 50 miles; Sierra Valley Farms and Ranches, 25 to 45 miles?
As a longtime local farmer and an instrumental part of starting the first farmers markets in the Tahoe /Truckee area, I noticed that the “Buy Local” movement was booming from 2004 to 2012. Local chefs were knocking down our door crying for local produce and meats. The Farmers Markets were packed, much busier than they are today. The community wanted local, organic, and seasonal quality produce over cheap, convenient, and consistent goods. That attitude is nonexistent today.
Over the past three years, I’ve seen a steady decline not only in our farm’s sales but I’ve also heard from other local high-elevation farms and ranches that they are way down in local sales from the restaurants, food stores, and hubs. Our farm alone has lost nine to 10 local restaurant accounts and we’re turning under 50 to 70% of our crops due to failed promises from restaurants and local stores and declining farmers markets. The Sunday Truckee Community Farmers Market attendance and sales are at an all-time low and on the verge of closing for good.
We are in danger of losing new, inspiring high elevation farmers/ranchers if the community does not get out and support them. So don’t get fooled by the “we buy local” claims: Many sources are buying from the same 100- to 150-mile-away farms and distributors from the Valley, with a few sprinkled in supporting foothill Nevada City farmers. Hate to say it folks … you’re all eating the same food, and it’s not local! If you see Sierra Valley Farms on the menu or Gary’s greens, they’re not mine.
So what’s causing this shift in attitude? Amazonification. The popularity of buying online, easy with an app, convenient, cheap, consistent … and you don’t have to get off your ass! Just pick up the phone, call your distributor or online store, and have it delivered. It’s society today. Is that who you want to be? That attitude is ruining the “Buy Local” Tahoe/Truckee community and killing our retailers and farmers that we were once famous for — and we have to change that.
What can we do, then, to support local farming? We have to demand local restaurants, chefs, hubs, and natural food stores to first buy all the local high-elevation produce available. Request your restauranteurs to have seasonal menus, not boiler plate consistent menus, and ask them which high-elevation farms they’re buying from. Attend local farmers markets when in season, buy high-elevation CSA boxes, and go visit these farms and support local retailers.
~ Gary Romano established Sierra Valley Farms in Beckwourth (45 minutes from Truckee) in 1990, which became a 65-acre certified organic vegetable farm in 2000. Romano sells to restaurants, farmers markets, and natural food stores all over Tahoe/Truckee. His new book, available at BeSpoke, 27 Shades of Green: The True Colors of an American Small Farmer examines the struggles our existing and young farmers.