History of the True Local Program
When the Kootenay Co-op began as a buying club more than 40 years ago, the purpose was to provide members with healthy, affordable foods that were not available locally. The Kootenay Country Store Co-operative members would order from the coast, send a member down to pick up their bulk purchases, and divide the purchases amongst the membership. In many ways, the Kootenay Co-op’s operations are much the same today as they have been since 1972. Since our inception, however, the food landscape has changed as the economy has become increasingly globalized. Today, it’s actually easier in many cities to get food from far away than it is to get local food!
While the Kootenay Co-op has been encouraging local farmers and natural food suppliers to retail their produce and products at the Co-op since the beginning, we made a big leap in 2013 with the creation of the True Local program. At that time, our focus shifted from merely putting local products on our shelves to building a healthy local economy, nurturing a healthy local population, and protecting a healthy local environment.
What’s in a name?
In May 2013, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced a new definition of the word “local,” claiming that “local” could refer to anything sourced within the province or within 50 km of provincial borders. This definition allows marketers and retailers to brand products as local that could have been produced as far as 3000 km away! The Kootenay Co-op decided not to accept the CFIA definition of local and responded by launching our “True Local” program.
The True Local Program
The mission of the True Local Program is to promote and develop the capacity of suppliers in our bioregion to better meet the needs of our members and our community. The True Local region is defined by the concepts of bioregionalism, but generally speaking, is limited to a 160 km (100 mile) radius around our store. Purchasing from our bioregion is an investment in the future of our food security, food sovereignty and the economic resilience of our communities.
As the Kootenay Co-op grows, so does our potential to have a positive impact on local food systems and community resilience. The True Local program supports our mission to provide high quality foods while investing in the social, environmental and economic sustainability of our community. Along with product selection, our members cited the availability of True Local products as the most influential reasons for shopping at the Co-op in our 2016 survey.
Not only does the True Local Program help to ensure we have local products for members and shoppers to choose from, but it also helps to ensure the continued success of our local suppliers. We’ve taken to heart the need to nurture local farms and businesses in a variety of ways, including:
- seeking out, supporting, mentoring, and sometimes incubating new True Local suppliers
- providing free advertising opportunities for local suppliers
- providing free educational opportunities for current and potential True Local suppliers
- ensuring in-store systems support local suppliers
- cultivating a healthy local market for suppliers by engaging and educating our staff and community members about the benefits of supporting local businesses
When you shop True Local at the Kootenay Co-op, you’re supporting local suppliers who are much more likely to spend their revenues at other local businesses. In fact, studies show that each dollar spent on local products creates $3 in economic activity in the community. In other words, shopping local helps ensure our community will thrive with abundant food and creative entrepreneurs. You’re helping to protect our environment by reducing the transportation-related impacts and by supporting well-managed (organic and KMG-certified) local farms which are more likely to preserve open spaces, fertile soil and clean water.
Bioregionalism is a political, cultural, and ecological system based on naturally defined areas called bioregions, which emphasizes local populations, knowledge and solutions. While accounting for the cultural phenomenon aspect, bioregions are also defined through physical and environmental features, including watershed boundaries and terrain characteristics; ours is loosely defined by the “Kootenays”.
Local farmers often grow unique and heritage varieties, partly to offer something distinct from industrial-scale producers, and partly because many heritage varieties are better adapted to local growing conditions. Local farmers are close to their markets, which allows them to prioritize nutritional value and flavour rather than high yields and transport durability. By choosing unique varieties and prioritizing flavour, local farmers contribute to preserving genetic diversity of crops. True Local produce is actually healthier too, because fresh, organic, in-season produce is grown in nutrient-rich soils. Soil nutrients transfer to the fruits and veggies, and studies show that nutrients are more abundant when the produce is harvested and delivered the same day.
The True Local program offers the opportunity for you to get to know the people behind the products. When you know the people making and growing your food, you are nurturing relationships, building community spirit, strengthening community resilience and fostering a sense of belonging. We invite you to spend a little time getting to know your local farmers and suppliers and finding new or new-to-you True Local products. You may also choose to learn more about the issues affecting local agriculture and food security and how you can actively participate in their solutions. Thank you supporting True Local!
Want to find out more about our True Local farmers and suppliers?
Interested in becoming a True Local supplier? Find out more about retailing your product at your community-owned grocery store!