GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The shelves at big box stores have been unpredictable at best when it comes to produce – a supply shortage on many fresh items decimated produce sections and butcher counters all of the last year-and-a-half. Even a shortage on shipping pallets themselves slowed the flow of product around the country.
But for stores who bought local – and farms that sold local – the loss of chain markets was the gain of small ones.
“We’re not reliant on that national source of supply,” said Alan Hartline owner of Kingma’s Market in Grand Rapids. “When the shortage happened early in the pandemic, customers began to recognize that we are still in stock.”
And it largely had to do with where Kingma’s was buying from. Their partnerships – from their butcher items to their baked goods and vegetables – come from West Michigan. It takes a lot of pressure off shipping and supply costs.
“Our local relationships, they’ve been somewhat self-contained. Our meat comes from Holland, Michigan, our pork from Coopersville,” said Hartline. “That’s helped us be somewhat resilient.”
Kingma’s not only stayed in supply because of that, but Hartline believes they also picked up a lot of customers fed up with lacking or underwhelming produce.
Kingma’s relies on a few farm partners for fresh items, including Green Wagon Farm in Ada. Heather Anderson, who owns the 18-acre farm with her husband Chad, said their ability to grow produce inside and year-round has helped fill the local need for what national stores can’t get easily.
“We definitely had some people that kind of had some scares. There’s that nervousness rumbling through,” she said. “The restaurants obviously took a big hit and so we kind of thought we were going to lose out. But we do have our grocery partners, like Kingma’s.”
Because it’s a short drive from the farm to the markets they serve, produce that was in the ground one day, can be in your grocery bag and on your plate the next. The national shortages have shown the resiliency of the buy-local concept. It’s certainly been a preferable model for local stores and farms.
“We actually saw an increase in sales, I think our best sales year yet,” said Anderson. “People are appreciating their local sources.”
“We’re on the good side of this,” said Hartline, “if there is one.”