I’m a marketing professional, specializing in in-store promotions and campaigns. It’s my job to be a student of the retail industry and understand what makes shoppers tick.
One emerging trend in retail is the shoppers’ demand for experiences in the store. As online shopping grows in popularity and delivers convenience to shoppers in a busy and time-crunched world, retail stores are being pushed to find new ways to become a meaningful destination. It’s why you see Starbucks shops opening up inside Target, more grocery stores putting in bars and diners, and cooking classes at Whole Foods.
Another trend, especially important with millennial shoppers, is a shifting understanding of what makes food healthy. Many care less about the fiber or sugar content (though those things are still important), and more about where it was grown, how it was raised, or whether it’s sustainable.
With these factors in mind, it’s not a surprise that the local food movement has been gaining in popularity in recent years. What I’ve found, since making the commitment to eat only local foods this month, is that the weekly grocery shopping trip I used to view as a chore has now turned into several stops and experiences along the way. I’m having more fun purchasing food than I ever thought possible before I paid much attention to where that food comes from.
I will admit, eating locally isn’t always convenient. It took a lot of time and effort to grow a garden that yields more cucumbers than we can eat. Sometimes the local produce store we love doesn’t have everything we have on our list. But between the local produce shop, the Farmer’s Market, and a visit to a farm for an afternoon of family fun, we’ve always been able to stock up on everything we need.
It’s this last piece — the experiences that we have with the local farmers in our community that are fun for the whole family — that give me confidence that we aren’t going to see the small farmer hit the road anytime soon. If people want experiences when they shop, there’s no better way than to experience a little piece of what goes on in a farmer’s world every day.
This weekend, my family and I went to visit Buck Creek Farm, one of our favorite Farmer’s Market vendors because of their delicious chicken sausages. Their website and social media talked about how all of their animals are pasture-raised, and I wanted to see for myself, so I sent them an email and asked for a tour. They were happy to show me around that pasture, give me some history into how and why they got started with farming, and a little insight into the daily lives of the animals they raise. I left with a couple pounds of chicken breast, two packs of sausages, and a much more interesting experience than walking down an aisle in the grocery store.
We’re lucky that our two-year-old and four-year-old aren’t terribly picky eaters. For the most part, they’ll eat whatever we’re eating — no separate kid-friendly meals required at our dinner table. With that said, there are some things that my kids don’t eat a whole lot of. Before we started gardening, neither of them were very likely to eat a vegetable. I’m not sure I could have gotten them to try a zucchini before they began growing like weeds in the backyard and the kids helped us harvest them. Many berries were a very similar story.
On Sunday afternoon, we visited another farm as a family: Plum Granny Farm. We’d been to this farm before and loved it, during the Northern Triad Farm Tour, but today they had another special event going on: blackberry picking.
Our kids had an absolute blast. We had explained before we got there that blackberries, which we’d gotten last week at the Farmer’s Market because they are in season right now, grow on bushes before they are available for us to buy and eat. But I don’t think the message really sank in until we started walking through the rows of bushes, searching for the perfect sour and sweet berry to place in our basket. We left with a couple containers of blackberries, a few new garlic varieties, and again — a much better experience than trying to grocery shop with two kids under four.
The future is bright for the local small farmer, especially for those who continue to invest in creating unique, fun, and educational experiences for the whole family. Let’s support them and reward their efforts by enjoying the memories they help us create and nourishing our families with healthy foods and habits to last a lifetime.