If we are what we eat, what does the food we buy say about us?
Here on Lopez, Blossom Grocery owners Brian and Jennell Kvistad ask this question a lot, directing it both to the day-to-day operation of their store and to the wider community they are committed to serving.
I sat down with them one afternoon recently and learned how their answers to this question have shaped the store they’ve owned for seven years and their plans for the future.
“From the very beginning we’ve set pretty high standards for what we brought in,” Brian said. “Certified organic was very important to us and still is.”
They had just returned from the 2011 Organicology Conference “The Study of a Sustainable Food Future” in Portland, Ore., and discussions of the organic movement were on their minds. “We are at a point now where there is recognition that organic is best for the environment, people, the economy, and nutrition,” Brian said. “Even the World Bank and UN say there is a growing consensus among scientists and government that small scale/organic is the way forward.”
At the same time, he continued, other conference speakers pointed to “issues like the deregulation of genetically engineered alfalfa and sugar beets and the forces behind them that can squash the organic movement just like that.” Her head in her hands, Jennell added: “Those were the heavy moments of the conference when we asked ourselves: ‘how can we even think of making a difference?’”
But making a difference is their mission for Blossom.
The first step is with the products that fill the shelves. There are lots of things they don’t carry because, Brian explained, “I ask myself ‘does anyone have to eat this?’” What they do carry is determined by: “food miles, certified organic status, fair trade status, producer ethics, affordability, simplicity, freshness, and suitability for islanders’ needs.”
This commitment to food that is good for people and the environment can keep them from meeting all customers’ requests. “Just because someone asks for something doesn’t mean we need to order it,” Brian said. “That’s where talking with our customers about other choices comes in,” Jennell added. “I want to challenge my customers a little bit, connect with them on a level that doesn’t just provide them with food but really engages them.”
Another step in making a difference is selecting and working with suppliers. One example is Organically Grown Company (OGC) “where we get all of our produce we don’t get locally. OGC is a for-profit business but they act as though they are a non-profit, activist operation. They put a lot of their efforts into farmers and staff, and they travel around the country to see what the issues are. They are both selling and calling attention to the ugly sides of some products and trying to improve them.”
They are also enthusiastic about their evolving relationship with local farmers.
“We’ve started to give Horse Drawn Farms, T&D Farms and Lopez Harvest specific lists of what items we will buy. Now they know what and how much to plant. We’re trying to make both our customers and growers our partners.”
A third step in their mission is their involvement in the wider community, something they feel ready to embark on now that the store is established.
“We are excited to join in efforts to improve our local food system,” they said. “The recent Food Charette put on by Lopez Community Land Trust was energizing. One issue we intend to get involved in is how to fight against the genetic engineering of organisms. This one issue has far-reaching implications. We have to try to stop this destructive process and the huge agri-businesses that are pushing it.”
Consistent with these goals, on April 17, an international day of peasant struggles, Blossom will sponsor an event in support of our local Lopeasants. Visit www.viacampesina.org to learn more.
Looking back over the past seven years, Brian said, “I think a lot of people know that we take our job really seriously. It’s a mission that is aimed at improving this community.”
Agreeing, Jennell added: “We feel lucky that we are able to provide Blossom to the community and that it is a viable life for us.”