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Local Food Could Benefit From Higher Gas Prices

By Charlie Deitz


Berkshire County – With gas prices on a steady climb, the cost of fresh food won't be far behind. WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief Charlie Deitz reports that the increased cost of shipping might prove to be a benefit to farm stands and local food producers

The US Energy Information Administration reports that regular gas stood at about 3.50 a gallon last week, more than a 75 cent increase over last year, and diesel is at about 3.86, almost a dollar higher. With that in mind, food distributors have to absorb those costs when packaging produce and sending it sometimes thousands of miles away. Jim Harrison is the president of the Vermont grocers association, he says while the recent spike in gas prices isn't directly being felt in the produce aisle yet, it will.

Michael Rozyne is the founder and co-director of a northeast regional organic food distributor called Red Tomato, a company that specializes in getting local farm goods to major grocery stores. Rozyne notes that they too are dealing with higher fuel costs, but the industry has a history of resilience, afforded mainly by farmers making sacrifices.

But consumers aren't completely unaware of market cycles, Barbara Zheutlin is the director at a group called Berkshire Grown, they work on promoting all things related to local food, from farm stands to local fare at restaurants.

Looking back almost three years when fuel prices were sustained near the 4 dollar mark for almost the entire summer, local growers were in high demand because their product, normally higher priced than produce at Wal-marts and other large scale grocery outlets, wasn't so far out of reach, that's according to Aimee Thayer, the Executive Director of the USDA's Berkshire County Farm Service Agency.

Wild Oats in Williamstown, Massachusetts sells a blend of local and organic produce, General Manager Michael Faber also hasn't seen gas prices take a direct effect on the pricing yet.

At the south end of Berkshire County, the Berkshire Co-op's General Manager Art Ames, says whichever way the food prices go this summer, customers are better prepared because they just went through this a few years ago.

In addition to gas prices, consumers may also be seeing higher food costs associated with energy and commodity pricing. A CNN Money report shows that things like apples, cheese and coffee are tracking about 10 percent higher than last year, before they absorb any extra costs for transportation.