September 4, 2007

Your local Marco Polo

Weird title, isn't it. It's actually the name of a weirder store I've thought about for a while, and written about elsewhere.

I'm not sure it's my idea - someone else may have suggested it - but I wish there was a food store that specialized in local food, with a "Marco Polo" section for things like spices that normally come from afar. Everything would have origin labels - customers could always tell where the goods and the ingredients came from, preferably to the city or town level where possible.

To get a little more detailed, I see a few sections in the store:

The Fresh Zone

This would be the section everyone thinks of when they think of farmers' markets - fresh produce, meat, and baked goods, with new food coming and old food going depending on the season. In winter, this section would shrink a lot, in favor of

The Stored Zone

This would be the area for frozen and canned local foods, as well as things like grain and flour that last without a major investment in storage. One thing I'd especially like to see here is food preserved in a root cellar or equivalent, from root vegetables to apples. (It would also be fun to offer on-site flour milling and things like that.)

The Marco Polo Zone

This would be the 'exciting' part of the store, where foods from all over would be welcomed. I picture spice racks and shelves of things like chocolate, tea, and coffee - valuable items that travel easily.

The Teaching Zone

At least at first, I think the place would need to teach customers how to deal with seasonal food if they want to have a market. It's not that I think customers would only buy from this store if they knew it existed, but rather that a lot of people need to learn basic cooking skills to even use the less-processed foods available in this store. It could also host events like group canning and freezing days, and maybe serve as a center for light processing and preservation of local foods.

I'm sure a lot of folks would only shop there out of curiosity, and I'm not sure it's a business model that would work right now in most parts of the country. I suspect it could work in Tompkins County, but alas, I lack the time or money to start it. Hopefully someone else might think it's a good idea. (It's not all that different from an old-time grocery store.)

Posted by simon at September 4, 2007 8:42 AM in
Note on photos


beth said:
It could also host events like group canning and freezing days, and maybe serve as a center for light processing and preservation of local foods.

I love this idea!

I would love if there was a way for people to preserve food without owning all the equipment to do it. A community kitchen where people could borrow time on, say, a pressure canner would be a great idea.

Similarly, there are so many local tomatoes here in the summer - but come winter, the canned tomatoes all come from California. Even if the local farmers can't process their own stuff, a local company or community group could buy produce from local farms and freeze, can, or otherwise preserve it.

Tom Shelley said:

Simon--This is a really great idea! Could be sort of a Ludgate type of place, only set up differently and with not so many "ultra-yuppie" items for sale? Tom