I recently had the opportunity to chat with local food consultant Karen Karp, president and founder of Karp Resources, New York City.

11:37 a.m. Tom Karst: What is the answer for traceability? Is it applying a technology solution to the supply chain?

 
Chatting with Karen Karp, Karp Resources

Karp

11:38 a.m. Karen Karp: I think we have the technology. More and more farmers complain about this all the time, and I’m sensitive to their complaints, that retailers push GAPs, barcodes, or this and that down the necks of producers. We have all the technology. Most farmers are gritting their teeth and getting down to it. What we don’t have is simple low-cost, low-impact policies that encourage that traceability throughout the chain. I experience this a lot with the Hunts Point Terminal Market. They know where they get their food from, but there is no carry-through to the buyers from the wholesalers on the market. For example, big institutions like New York City schools and hospitals that are trying to have more local food in their systems, they are trying to purchase local foods from the market. Some of it is local and from the region, but some of it they just don’t know. I think some simple policies would help us there.

11:40 a.m. Karst: What is the future of local food? Are you concerned that consumers tire of local or think of it as “greenwashing” and local then becomes a short-lived fad?

11:41 a.m. Karp: I think there is huge opportunity ahead. You probably know that we have been involved with this for a very long time. We’re headed into our 10th year working on local and regional food systems. We have clients ranging from the USDA to the New York Department of Agriculture to New York City Schools. Really, everybody is getting on the local food bandwagon. I see the demand is just continuing to soar.

For example, six years ago when we completed the first round of research for the New York City Wholesale Farmers Market, we quantified $866 million worth of demand from wholesale buyers in New York City, and that’s before schools got into the game. Now when I speak to wholesalers, distributors, buyers, they say their demand has gone up eight to 10 times. In New York City, we are looking at perhaps $8 billion in demand for local food, so I don’t see this wave ending at all.

What I see is that we need to create structure, definition and understanding around what local means, and it is beyond going to the local farmers market and buying an apple that is in season. The strategies have to be a little more thought out. For example, to make local a sustainable trend, we need to figure out a sustainable economic model, and I don’t think that is about one-off purchases from area farms the moment the produce is ripe and ready. It is not about calling up and getting that one shipment of organic local blueberries — I think it is much more about partnerships and strategies that are year-round. I think it has been really hard for people to think year-round. It is year-round work, not just seasonal work.

11:56 a.m. Karst: Any parting thoughts on this issue of local food?

11:57 a.m. Karp: Our work over the past couple of years has become a lot more focused on policy, and I think that we are really in a moment that policy is overlapping with business opportunity and that is a very exciting place for a lot of people in the food business. When you are looking at agriculture policy, health policy, and new business models. That is a very exciting place to be and I couldn’t have imagined this 10 years ago but I’m really, really happy about it now. I think there will continue to be more opportunities. At least the government is listening and seeing what the issues are around the country — the important social issues around the country — and looking for ways to use food to solve those problems, and I love that. I love using the food business to address
social issues. That’s what I live for.