Chow Locally makes local food accessible - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Chow Locally makes local food accessible

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Posted: Thursday, October 13, 2011 3:00 pm | Updated: 2:48 pm, Thu Oct 4, 2012.

Finding and eating locally grown foods can be a challenge for many living and working in Ahwatukee Foothills, but a new website has just begun to make access to local foods easy and fast.

When Derek Slife moved to a small farming town in Washington his eyes were opened to how much better local food tastes. With the nearest grocery store being about 45 minutes away, it became the norm to go to local farmers first before the grocery store.

It was a bit of a disappointment when he came back to Phoenix and realized local food wasn't as accessible here.

"I wondered, how do I get that same awesome local food," Slife said. "The food tastes better, it's better for the local economy, you get to actually know where your food comes from. I didn't see anything similar to that in Arizona. The closest thing I could find was a CSA program. With CSA there were some challenges."

A CSA is a Community Supporting Agriculture program. It's basically a subscription to a local farm. People pay up front for about 10 weeks and then they receive a delivery of fresh produce each week.

The problem Slife, and the man running the CSA, Chris Wharton, ran into is many people didn't want to make that commitment. They also had a problem with the program because consumers never know what produce they are going to get. Each person in the program gets a mystery basket of produce each week.

Slife is a software engineer who has built and sold websites in the past. He decided maybe a different model could still help local farmers, but make it a little more convenient for the consumer.

Working with Wharton, an assistant professor in the nutrition program at Arizona State University, the two designed a website that did just that. Chowlocally.com allows customers to order produce and products from local producers and then pick it up at the end of the week at their local farmers market. So far the company distributes at the downtown Phoenix market and the Ahwatukee Farmers Market.

"Hopefully, there's a convenience factor," Wharton said. "People enjoy e-commerce experiences. You can go online and purchase your things and have the whole process handled. We distribute through farmers markets so there's still a trip to be made, but it can be done at part of your grocery shopping trip. It's also at a farmers market so that's always nice. You get to see what's out there.

"Built into buying from us means you're supporting your local farmer and local agriculture. The nice thing about that is that because we just facilitate the transaction we take very little of that transaction so the farmer can actually make more off the purchase than he can otherwise make selling to a distributor or other wholesaler. Foods generally are healthier because they're not processed and packaged. It's also a community experience."

The men do not buy the produce from the farmers and resale it so they are not middlemen. They simply facilitate the transaction between the consumer and the farmer. Each week they call the farmers to let them know what has been ordered from them online, and then they ask for updates to their inventory. The farmers drop off the produce to them and they put together the orders for distribution. They charge a $2 service fee for each order.

Chow Locally is not just about purchasing local food, the company also does its best to educate people about eating locally. Their website contains a blog with various articles from ASU nutrition students, as well as profiles of each of the farmers.

"We give the consumer a lot of choices," Wharton said. "Right now, when you go to the grocery store, you make decisions based on nutrition. Now you can go online and make decisions based on how it's grown, who grows it, where it comes from, and bring all of that in to the decision-making process."

There are no limits or restrictions to what can be purchased through Chow Locally. For more information, visit chowlocally.com.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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