Localecopia – Bridging the disconnect between farmer and consumer

If you’re planning to attend FFVA 2015, FFVA’s 72nd annual convention Sept. 23-25 at The Breakers in Palm Beach, you’ll be interested in an organization called Localecopia Inc.

Localecopia is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created on the principles of supporting local, sustainable business.  By connecting like-minded individuals, Localecopia follows its mission through local commerce, education and outreach that helps to eliminate the disconnect between producers and consumers.

Geoffrey Sagrans, president of Localecopia, has a day job. He’s assistant director of materials management at The Breakers. And he’s a huge champion of buying local and fresh.

“Rick Hawkins, our director of materials management, and I started the organization about eight years ago,” Sagrans said. “We were buying local to an extent well before it was in style. But in 2005-2006 we were having trouble buying fresh mangos through our standard distribution chain, and the chef said to us, ‘Why is it that I can go into my own backyard and get this incredible fresh mango, and we can’t get that kind of fruit through the normal channels?’ ”

That question was the catalyst that spurred the creation of Localecopia, Sagrans said. “We figured we’d been buying from local farms for years on a smaller scale and we’ve been green-focused, so why not expand those efforts and create an organization that takes the idea of what we’re doing at The Breakers and spread the word?” They created an organization originally called the Farm to Plate Alliance, later Localecopia.

Localecopia educates people about local food and makes it available to schools, restaurants, hotels and more. In addition to the non-profit educational entity, the organization also has a subsidiary, Localecopia Marketplace, which partners with farmers from Central Florida to the Everglades to provide Florida-grown produce to institutional buyers. Localecopia is completely independent of The Breakers, although the resort supports the organization’s efforts.  It was incorporated in 2007 shortly after becoming a licensed non-profit organization.

Localecopia's first delivery January 12 to the Treasure Coast Food Bank, St. Lucie County schools distributor, as part of its farm to school program. Left to right: Judith Cruz, CEO, Treasure Coast Food Bank; Deborah Wuest, director, Child Nutrition Services; Darren Frymoyer, senior area specialist; Jen Muzzin, RD, area specialist; and Mike Guenther, Localecopia Marketplace logistics director.

“Our purpose is to eliminate the disconnect between producers and consumers,” Sagrans said. “We educate people about local products, local services, local businesses. We go to schools, green events, community events, and talk about buying local. After doing that for a while, we thought ‘why not put our money where our mouth is?’ So we started Localecopia Marketplace. The organization’s drivers and trucks pick up from the farms around the state and bring Florida products to market. “The Marketplace is a produce company, but strictly focused on getting Florida products to Florida consumers. So it’s a niche produce company,” he said.

“Palm Beach County and St. Lucie County schools are two of the Marketplace’s customers. “What they love about us is the transparency,” Sagrans said. “In a typical distribution supply chain, distribution companies will buy from a middle man who may have bought from another middle man. With us, there are times when we’ll buy at a consolidation point, but we always know where the food comes from. And in the case of some of our bigger growers, we literally buy from the farm, which is great because it’s in the field one day and the next day it’s on our truck. It goes from the farm to the centralized location for distribution.” Trucks begin their journey in Plant City, collect produce in Hillsborough and Polk counties, head south on U.S. Highway 27, and finally pick up produce from South Florida farms.

Products are listed on its website and in Localecopia’s monthly newsletter. Its member farmers are encouraged to share news about their products, their company or anything they want to promote. “As a paid member of the organization you can add something to the newsletter once a month over the 12-month period. It goes out to about 10,000 people,” said Sagrans.

We help promote our member farmers any way we can. If they’re trying to get their foot in the door somewhere we can’t promise them anything, but we can at least put in a good word for them or give them suggestions. – Geoffrey Sagrans, president of Localecopia

The organization also holds its twice-yearly Meet and Greet events. “It’s an opportunity to get everybody under one roof. We invite all our members plus chefs, managers, school foodservice people, foodies, media, with that idea of eliminating disconnect. Our goal is that when participants leave the room, they have made at least one new connection.” He says the event especially offers smaller growers an opportunity to meet people who are in the market for their products.  The next Meet and Greet will be April 6 at the Breakers.

“And then, finally, we help promote our member farmers any way we can. If they’re trying to get their foot in the door somewhere we can’t promise them anything, but we can at least put in a good word for them or give them suggestions,” Sagrans said.

Localecopia Marketplace partners with farmers from Central Florida to the Everglades to provide Florida-grown produce to institutional buyers.

When Sagrans and Hawkins started Localecopia, Sagrans said people told them it wouldn’t work. “And here we are years later, so we must be doing something right,” he said. Both the non-profit and the Marketplace are growing.” They introduced the Localecopia Lecture Series this year where they work with their school district customers. “We go into the school and talk to students about the foods they eat, about understanding what healthy foods are. A big topic is about understanding the students’ favorite foods. We’ll dissect a Twinkie, for example, or we’ll look at chips or sodas and talk about how much sugar is in them and how processed a lot of the foods they eat are – just to give them an understanding of what they’re putting into their bodies.”

A positive development has been a recent partnership with Chipotle. Localecopia and Chipotle sponsored a grant contest last month. “They’re offering $1,000 for five different growers in the state for third-party food safety audits. Because where we’re going in the food safety area is that eventually everyone is going to have to have third-party audit certification. So if a farm is on the fence about hiring an auditor, this is an opportunity. Once they have an audit, that opens the door to a lot more business. And there is the potential opportunity to supply products to Chipotle,” Sagrans said.

Chipotle also sponsored 10 new Localecopia members last year.

And there are more things to come for Localecopia. They will continue to work with other non-profit organizations, such as “The Lord’s Place,” a local organization that works with people who are homeless or trying to get back into society after a setback.  “They provide them with job skills, cooking skills, growing skills, and what we try to do is support their efforts. We have a strong relationship with the Palm Beach County food bank, the Treasure Coast food bank and there are some things that are beginning to gel with Broward County.”

“Everything we do, everything we touch, it’s all about the mission of the organization,” Sagrans said.

Learn more about Localecopia’s mission and how to become a member here.

And when you’re enjoying the culinary creations at The Breakers during FFVA 2015, remember that Localecopia is one reason that Florida produce is a star of the show at the resort throughout the state’s growing season.

Localecopia
PO Box 844
Palm Beach, Florida 33480
855 562-2511

info@localecopia.org

 

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