By Alex Koscevic, Lindsey Burnworth, and Anthony Pellegrino
Cheryl Brown tries to buy her food locally.
“I personally enjoy knowing where my food comes from,” said Brown, an agriculture and regional economics professor. She said it makes her feel good that her money is going directly to someone she knows.
Buying locally doesn’t just help the local economy; it also can help you save money. In Morgantown, consumers have multiple ways to find locally grown food.
The Mountain People’s Co-Op is one store that offers local foods, and Ashley Keane, an employee of the store, said the store’s mission is to provide healthy and nutritious items to its members at the lowest possible cost. One way this is possible is because the Co-Op serves as a venue for small suppliers to sell their products. The store charges sellers a 10 percent commission fee, while most commercial stores require 40 percent of the profit.
Keane said contrary to what people might think, it’s actually cheaper to buy local foods. “That’s a huge misconception,” she said. “Most products you buy in a grocery store have fuel and packaging costs, but our products don’t have that because they’re grown so close to here. Also we buy in bulk, so that cuts down on costs too, especially when even the distributor is local.”
Also because they’ve worked with each other so frequently, the store employees, the growers and the distributors have an informal partnership. One example is frozen fruit: The Co-Op has the product 40 cents cheaper than anywhere in town.
The Richwood Grill, a restaurant in Morgantown that prides itself on using local ingredients, frequently makes purchases at the Mountain People’s Co-Op and also local farmers’ markets.
“I think we started out just trying to find good products, or good food to put out, and then developed these relationships with local farmers,” said Richwood Grill co-owner Alegria Ohlinger. “At one point we were just kind of saying, ‘Why are we giving so little of our money to these folks who are doing really good stuff, and giving the majority of it to a commercial supplier?’”
Brown said another benefit may be that some items don’t ship well, so the local varieties of some products might even taste better. Marion Ohlinger, the other co-owner of the Richwood Grill, said he loves the camaraderie at the farmers’ market, and it gives him the ability to expand on the ingredients available to his restaurant.
“I really love going through and talking with all the farmers, and they all know me and we know them. We pick out what we want, and they grow special stuff for us, and then we bring it here and we make all these cool new things,” he said.