Syracuse Real Food Co-op among the cutting edge of really green grocers

One can appreciate the changing seasons in the great outdoors and in the produce aisle at the Syracuse Real Food Co-op. The heirloom tomatoes of late summer made way for the autumn harvests of apples and pumpkins. In mid-October, locally farmed turkeys became available for early order for last week's Thanksgiving feast.

These seasonal specials reflect the grocery store's dedication to selling and promoting locally produced foods. Although the store strives to provide a wide variety of organic foods, supporting local businesses is its main priority.

"My standard for produce is local, not organic," said Brad Stone, Syracuse Real Food Co-op's produce manager.

Stone can often be found in a T-shirt and green apron, arms crossed, surveying his produce table.

"We're a co-op, and members rely on us to go local. It's a big thing," Stone said.

In addition to contributing to the financial health of local businesses, "going local" makes the co-op's operations more environmentally sound.

"Sustainability definitely plays a big role. But sustainability is such a big word," Stone said with a laugh. "For us, it's supporting local businesses. We're not getting our goods from a distributor some place who has to ship to some other place in New York, then ships here. We're skipping a bunch of steps by dealing with farmers directly, or with distributors who deal with farmers directly."

The logic is that by cutting all the middlemen and extraneous transport, the co-op reduces its carbon footprint and waste.

Plastic bags are not used at the co-op, except for in the produce aisle. But a Sept. 8 post on the co-op's blog announced that in 2009, the co-op Advantage--a national organization of natural food retailers, manufacturers and distributors--will provide plastic produce bags made of "100 percent post-industrial recycled plastic."

"As a result, NCGA [National Cooperative Growers Association] members will reduce virgin plastic consumption by more than 35 tons, or 70,000 pounds, in 2009," the blog states.

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