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2011 a good year for local food in St. Louis

Apples at the Tower Grove Farmers' Market
Tower Grove Farmers' Market via Facebook
Apples on display for purchase at the Tower Grove Farmers' Market.


As 2011 comes to a close, St. Louis Public Radio is taking a look back at the things and people that have had a good year. In the St. Louis region, local food--both the production and demand--makes that list.

Patrick Horine has been very involved in the local food movement, helping to start the Tower Grove Farmers' Market in 2006 and opening Local Harvest Grocery in 2007. As part of our "A Good Year" series, St. Louis Public Radio’s Maria Altman spoke with Horine at his Local Harvest Café about his interest in selling locally-grown food.

Here's a summary of their conversation:

How did you get involved?

I actually grew up in grocery stores. My dad owns grocery stores and his dad owned grocery stores. I grew up working in them, and after I moved out for college I stayed away from them for a while, but then I got drawn back in.

We moved to Tower Grove South almost nine years ago, and we loved the neighborhood and wanted to do something for it.  So the farmer’s market originally just came about because we wanted to do something for the community.

Then we saw the overwhelming demand for the food and it was a once-a-week market, 26 weeks of the year, so we decided we wanted to do something year-round and that’s where the grocery came from.

The farmer’s market and the grocery have really expanded. The farmers' market has gone from 500 people the first year to about 3,500 every Saturday?

That’s right. In 2011 our average shopper count was 3,500, but we had days as high as 5,000 or more. The grocery store we opened in 2007. That was a little 600 square foot store and now in March of 2011 we expanded to a 2,000 square foot space down the street.

What’s happening?

I think there are several components. One is the local economy. I think people know that by buying directly from farmers, buying directly from independently-owned businesses, they’re contributing to a healthier community.

Then there’s also the interest in knowing where their food comes from. I think a lot of our shoppers specifically come to us because we know where the food is produced and they trust the food they get from us for that reason.

There’s a relationship they build with farmers at the farmer’s market. They become loyal shoppers, they become friends with the farmers.

Then there’s the sustainability aspect to it. More and more people are concerned with how sustainably produced their food is. They know by talking to us and talking to their farmers how their food is produced and they like that. They like that it is sustainably produced.

Do you see more people getting into the production side of it; more people farming?

We are seeing more and more farmers each year. Pretty much every season you’ll lose a farmer here or there. They’re ready to retire or financially can’t make it.

But we are seeing more and more produce farmers coming on; we’re seeing more and more meat production coming on and more dairy production, especially in the specialty items like cheese.

Then we’re seeing a lot of young people wanting to get into farming, which is great. That gives you a good outlook for the future. If they’re going to be farming for a while, they have quite a few years ahead of them to farm, so that’s good.

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.

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