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Coffee at the Farmers Market?

April 16, 2012



Should local roasters be allowed to sell their products at local farmers' markets? I love coffee. I love coffee roasters. I love shopping at farmers' markets. I never thought about combining the two before reading an article in yesterday's Washington Post about coffee roasters being barred from many local farmers markets. My first reaction to the headline was -- well, duh! Local. Farmers. Coffee is not ever local produce, so where's the controversy? Then I read the article and started thinking about it...

When I think about things I can buy at a farmers market, I think fresh lettuce. And peaches. And tomatoes. And string beans. And zucchini -- lots and lots of zucchini and broccoli and strawberries and blueberries... oh, and there are several local dairies, so there's milk. And cheese. And one guy that sells ice cream. I can buy locally produced honey. And homemade bread.

And the bread is my stumbling block, just as it was in the article. Because where I live, there are no local growers who produce their own wheat or oats or grains to make bread. There are, however, lots of artisanal bakers, and no one questions their right to sell their product at local farmers markets. So... how different are artisanal roasters?

The article raises a lot of interesting points, and takes the subject beyond coffee roasters to other types of imported products. If you allow coffee roasters to sell a product that's imported, how about olive oil importers? My gut says no -- coffee roasters make a significant change to their product before selling their beans. Olive oil, on the other hand, is imported as is, ready to sell. Different metric entirely, at least in my eyes. 

There were a few quotes in the article that raised my eyebrows. This one, for example, from an executive director of one of the DC farmers markets, about one of the reasons they exclude local coffee roasters from their markets: “there are a lot of coffee shops, like Starbucks and Firehook, surrounding our markets, and we want to support them, frankly.”

Now, I get that lots of Starbucks are locally owned franchises -- but they're certainly not selling a locally grown, packaged or produced product. Meanwhile, local roasters who import a raw material and use their talents -- and employ local people -- to substantially transform that material into a finished product are shut out of many local markets because they don't sell a local product because, in part, the folks who run the market are all about boosting local business. Wait, what?

The article throws in another wrinkle -- subtly, because it's more in the photo slideshow that accompanies the article than in the text itself. The coffee roaster featured in the slideshow isn't just any roaster. The roasted beans he sells are imported from his own farm in the Honduras. That is -- his farm may not be local but he's an actual coffee farmer, and he imports and roasts the beans locally -- usually the morning of the farmers market. So he's not only a local business owner -- he sells the produce from his own farm. Seriously -- how much more pure can you get?

If I were in the position of making the decision for a local farmers market, I know where I'd come down. Unless the rules specified ONLY produce grown locally, coffee roasters would get a booth. 

I'm interested in what you guys think. Should local coffee roasters be included in farmers markets as local food artisans, or should local roasters be excluded because coffee beans are not grown locally? 








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