The Food PageMaking the Connection with Local Food
Our Local Food Heroes
(This is a regular feature on the "Food Page," highlighting people and places who are champions of locally raised food.)
Farmer's Market With A Twist
SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- Where did the food on the table come from and what kind of growing practices does the producer use? Those are questions more and more consumers are asking as they seek healthy and safe foods for their families. Sioux City's Firehouse Market, which just opened Dec. 15, is responding to a growing demand for quality food and responsible production practices by offering a broad variety of locally grown foods and regularly bringing producers to their store to interact with consumers.
The store, located at 1211 5th Street, has twice as much floor space and nearly three times as much inventory as the former Floyd Boulevard Market. The store, which features a variety of natural and organic food products, has been made possible by a joint effort of producers, patrons, City of Sioux City, Siouxland Chamber of Commerce, Woodbury County and an Iowa development program.
"Consumers can find the same kind of variety here they see at farmer's markets," Pat Garrity, executive director of the Firehouse Market, said. "They can come to the store throughout the week and find products like meats, vegetables, fruit, flax seed, milk. That's just a few of the items here in the store. They'll find other types of locally made products here too."
Nearly 40 percent of the foods come from local growers and Garrity said Firehouse Market's goal is to bring local producers and consumers together as much as possible. The most significant expansion of products is in the meat, dairy and produce, primarily because of the added space in the new location. Because some foods, such as juices, cereals, etc. may not be available through producers within a 100-mile radius of the store, Firehouse Market will first search for regional producers and then national producers who offer those kinds of natural and organic products.
"We are focusing hard on locating products in the local area," Garrity said. "That's what differentiates us from other health food stores. We also want to offer consumers some choices within that range of products, such as homogenized and non-homogenized milk. We offer that in the store now."
Garrity, who owned and operated Garrity's Prairie Gardens near Mission Hill for 22 years, said Firehouse Market considers a 100-mile radius around Sioux City to be the primary area where they search for local growers. Regional products will be sought in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. He noted that growers and consumers both benefit when they can interact more directly during the sale of their products. "Consumers have an opportunity to see who is growing the food they buy," Garrity said. "They can ask questions about the grower's practices and let producers know what they would like to buy that they're not finding. Growers, of course, have the benefit of eliminating the middle man and developing a relationship with consumers. There's a transparency there that benefits both sides."
One of the factors driving the quest for buying local foods is the fact that 95 percent of the region's food is imported, despite the fact that the five-state area is an agricultural epicenter.
"For example, hamburger processed in Dakota City may go into a distribution channel that takes it to Minneapolis and then back to stores here," Garrity said. "That's a terrible carbon footprint. It makes much more sense to simply buy the hamburger from producers here."
In order to help local growers attain success in developing markets for their products, the Firehouse Market will be exploring ways to develop a less extensive distribution system that operates within the local area to bring a variety of locally raised products to consumers in numerous communities.
"If beef producers can establish a route within a 50-mile radius of their farm and regularly drop off their products through that network, they'll be able to get their beef to consumers who need and want it," Garrity said. "If we can make a variety of locally grown foods available to communities in the area on a regular basis, we can help both producers and consumers."
While the cost of locally grown foods is often higher than products found in large chain stores, Garrity said the availability of fresh and natural foods, such as grass fed beef, and the quality of those kinds of foods more than make up for added costs. "Surprisingly, natural foods and local foods usually cost about 20 to 25 percent more than commercial products," Garrity said. "When you look at costs, you have to remember you're not comparing apples to apples. You're getting much higher quality and fresher, more nutritious foods."
Firehouse Market offers patrons a $25 membership which gives them access to discounts and special store offers. The Market will also offer classes and online information about nutrition, food selection and preparation. "We won't be preachy to our customers about the benefits of local and organic foods," Garrity said, "but we will work hard to help them educates themselves about the benefits of eating differently."
In the short time that the store has been open, Garrity says they are pleased with customer response. "I think the store's been pretty well received," Garrity said. "There was a pretty limited variety of foods available before. Our average sales have nearly doubled with the added products. We'll be working to become a destination in terms of selection. We'll also be working hard to be personable and offer assistance to our customers." Firehouse Market is open from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays.