Challenges and Benefits
I really enjoyed this session. It was led by Randy Burns, Senior Buyer for the Patient Food and Nutrition Services at the University of Michigan Health System, and Jon and Karlene Goetz, owners of Goetz Greenhouse LLC. Together they talked about the hurdles and red tape that both the buyers and sellers of local food have to go through. It was surprising to hear how difficult it is to get these two important parties to be able to communicate and accept business transactions. Mr. Goetz brought up some of the rules and regulations that are easier said than done, or sometimes counter-productive. He explained that he has little choice but to comply because institutional buyers, such as Mr. Burns, are by law required to purchase food from certified sources. Some other problems were logistical in nature; loading docks aren't staffed early enough for morning delivery, deliveries can be too far away to make economic sense, or equipment may not function perfectly and cause delays.
Scheduling is also important for both groups. Buyers need to know how much things cost at what time and sellers need to know how much product is needed and when to deliver. Good communication is essential, they emphasized. Each group must make sure they're talking to the right people in charge when making important decisions like these. Good record keeping helps prevent these problems. Sellers need to track how much they are owed and that their contact information is updated frequently. Buyers can track how much they need on a given day and plan accordingly, preferably a year in advance for some produced goods.
Overall, the session was a great discussion on good business practices in inventory management and planning, but also tremendously valuable in illuminating some of the practical realities of acquiring local foods. The nitty-gritty details that put a focus on communication between community members really made me think about the difficulties of expanding local foods and their benefits to the public at large institutions; however, it hasn't stopped progress, and steps are still being taken to increase local food exposure. It was a pleasantly optimistic session with a healthy dose of real problems and solutions far from wispy ideals.