We had the chance to chat with Jenn DeRose, the manager of the local St. Louis non-profit Known and Grown. Known and Grown works to connect local farmers with local grocers and restaurants, and provide the farmers with the resources and support necessary for their success.
Read below to learn more about Jenn, Known and Grown's work, and the importance of buying and consuming local!
So Jenn, tell us a bit about your background!
Jenn: I spent many years in the front and back of the house of restaurants and working in record stores before coming to sustainability-related work. My first job in this field was as the Manager of the Green Dining Alliance, a local certification program for restaurant sustainability. In addition to my current role as Known & Grown Manager, I have several volunteer roles, including for the US Green Business Council's Green Schools Quest, OneSTL's Sustainability Lab's Communications's Committee, and the City of St. Louis's Clean Energy Advisory Board. I also work as a sustainability consultant for BlackRock Consulting, a small consulting firm focused on STL.
We got acquainted with you through Known and Grown. Can you tell us more about the work Known and Grown Does?
Jenn: Known & Grown STL works to build a resilient food community by supporting and spreading awareness about humane and chemical-free farmers within 150 miles of St. Louis. We visit each of the farms in our network to ensure they meet our standards for sustainable farming, including not using synthetic chemicals on their crops or pastures and not confining their animals. We help connect farmers with buyers in the area, from restaurants and stores to combined CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs. We also help connect farmers with resources, such as available grants and ways to shape policy efforts. In addition to this work, we also educate consumers about how to avoid greenwashing and where to buy products from farmers in our network, such as our Local Food Locator. We are a little over a year old and are currently up to 49 farmers!
Why is buying so local so important?
Jenn: There are so many good reasons to buy local food. When people buy locally, they are helping to create a more resilient food system. They are supporting real people who grow real food in our area, reducing the miles food has to travel to your plate, making it more nutritionally dense and better tasting. The more people growing real food, as opposed to commodity corn and soy, the more prepared we are as a region to face the inevitable shocks and stressors of climate change.Money spent locally has a multiplier effect and tends to stay in the community, helping other small businesses thrive. Additionally, when you buy from local, environmentally-responsible farmers, you are avoiding giving money to giant factory farms that pollute our air and water while degrading our soil and forcing animals to live in unspeakably cruel conditions.
What is environmentally responsible farming?
Jenn: Farmers in our program never use synthetic chemicals, don't confine their animals, and are located within 150 miles of St. Louis. They are good stewards of our shared air, water, and soil, using methods that sequester carbon, improve biodiversity, and improve soil health. These things matter on local and global levels, as regenerative agriculture practices keep water supplies safe, keep food free from harmful toxins, allow animals to be treated humanely, (with access to pasture), and act as a climate change solution.
For those who want to buy local but haven’t made an effort to before, where do you suggest they start?
Jenn: I often hear people tell me that it isn't possible to get everything locally, as though that serves as a reason to not get anything locally. Personally, I find that confounding. There are lots of items you can get - often year-round - from local farmers, and it doesn't have to break the bank. I suggest people commit to buying at least one staple item, such as eggs, greens, or beef, from a local farmer as often as possible. Eggs are probably the easiest. Eggs are the gateway drug to becoming a locavore. When you find a farmer at a market or through a CSA or store, try to find out how they raise their products. Asking questions will help you get to know your food better, help you avoid greenwashing (terms like "natural," "cage-free," and "farm fresh") and it will help build bonds with the people who grow it.