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What counts as local in local foods?

How do you know your strawberries came from Minnesota and not Mexico?

How do you know your strawberries came from Minnesota and not Mexico?

Many Minnesotans, from diners to restaurateurs, are developing a passon for local foods. And anyone with a taste bud can attest to superior flavor of a strawberry plucked from a Minnesota patch in June versus one trucked from Mexico in November. But living in a part of the country with a limited growing season, we're often left to depend on more flexible definitions of "local" eating and on our local purveyors' passion about locality and the sustainability of local farming. Or, as the chef-owner of Corner Table, Scott Pampuch, posited recently, "'Local' food is no longer a location on a map but instead a philosophy toward the land, animals, plants [and] people."

After a recent Los Angeles Times article alleged that Mexican produce had been sold under the banner of being locally grown at a California farmer's market, we checked in with one of our local markets to see how its operators ensure that our food is local. We spoke with Aaron Reser of the Mill City Farmer's Market.

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What guidelines do the Mill City Farmers Market use to define local? While some farmers markets set a specific radius for what defines local, Mill City Farmers Market does not presently set a finite limit on how we define "local."   Currently all of our farmers and growers have land in Minnesota or Wisconsin.  A few of our vendors are even within the metro area. Uptown Farmers, for example, whose motto is "more local than local," are less than three miles away from the market. MCFM has occasionally made exceptions to our local guidelines for products that were an excellent fit for the market, that are otherwise unavailable in this area, and that maintain a local connection.

Such as? Coffee. Cafe Palmira sells coffee beans at MCFM. The coffee is grown in Guatemala (and clearly couldn't be grown in Minnesota), but the owners of the company, Carlos Palacios and Katie Anifson, live in the Twin Cities. The coffee is grown on Carlos's family farm in Guatemala. Again, a direct local connection.

Olive oil. Valli Dell'Etna Olio is sold at MCFM by Josephine Mangano. Josephine lives in Minneapolis, but the olive oil is sourced directly from her family's olive groves where she was raised in Italy.

Wild Run Salmon is the company of Matt Oxford, who lives in St. Paul. The salmon is not from Minnesota, but Matt lives part time in Minnesota and part time in Alaska. During the salmon fishing season he is catching the fish himself in Alaska, and he sends it back to Minnesota, where he and his family members sell it at market.

How do you verify that your vendors are local? We have an extensive vendor application with several questions that capture not only farm location but also production practices, farm management philosophies, and commitment to sustainable farming. Market staff has very good relationships with the vendors and producers at our market and we regularly talk to them about their farm, the growing season etc. I personally have visited the farms of several of our vendors. We know all of our vendors by name and have a real relationship with all of our farmers and growers. This is true of many customers as well, which is the beauty of a farmers market. Many regular customers know "their" farmers by name and know intimately both where their food is grown and details of the production practice

It is written into our market rules that we reserve the right to inspect a farmer's land should the sourcing of products be questioned: Also, last year MCFM developed a Sustainability Statement. All vendors must sign on to the principals in the Sustainability Statement to be eligible to sell at Mill City.