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Food Trucks Archive

Backyard Farming, A Beacon for Food Law and Food Entrepreneurs

November 8, 2011

ThinkProgress.org has the latest news on the urban farming phenomenon in Oakland, California. While it is great to see people so heavily engaged in eating good food, this is not the kind of change I hope to see in the food system. It lacks permanence: zoning authorities can give and atake on a whim. I would prefer to see city council members burning their political capital on a micro-scale slaughter facility within city limits or some other piece of noisy, stinky, critical infrastructure. It’s much harder for cities to change their minds on something once bricks have been laid down, long term loans have been authorized, and a few dozen jobs are at stake.

Backyard farming should underscore two important points for those who eat and for those who grow. It shows that there is a.) a consumer demand for local products – duh – and b.) a dearth of supply so critical that it motivates consumers to undertake the difficult practice of farming for themselves.

Consider a world where this happened in economic transactions other than farming. Imagine if everyone had to learn how to fill their own cavities because they didn’t have access to a dentist. Imagine if everyone installed a lift in the garage to maintain and repair their own vehicle because there were no mechanics around. Farming is a skill, especially when it comes to the humane and efficient slaughter of livestock. I applaud those willing to do it themselves, but learning to farm proficiently requires an investment of time and resources commensurate with any other profession.

Part of the problem is the mis-regulation of the food industry. Compliance costs push small producers right out of the market. The second most pervasive problem is a function of the first; inflexibility of scale. There is zero infrastructure in places like Oakland which can process locally produced products. Not incidentally, the lack of infrastructure is the part that takes the longest to remedy. A zoning change can occur overnight. A flour mill or a slaughter facility takes much longer and requires a real long-term business and organizational strategy to achieve success.

Backyard farming is a beacon fire for entrepreneurs. I don’t know if you’ve notices but food is kind of a big deal lately. To see the American economic model react so slowly to consumer demand is shocking and a bit depressing. If do-it-yourself farming is a viable option for people who want to eat differently, it is a sign that many producers are still systemically incapable of meeting demand. The good news is that if you are a producer, there are still plenty of consumers out there for alternative agricultural products, and lots of money to be made if you take the long view.

Food Trucks

June 14, 2011

Detroit is the latest American city to discourage the business of gourmet food trucks, largely upon the insistence of traditional restaurants. In a city which is destroying thousands of its houses just to keep up with its shrinking population, it is a shame to see the city  discourage the proliferation of any kind of business.

The dynamic in the food truck wars has so far been wheels vs. bricks. One would think restauranteurs both mobile and fixed could have found some common ground by now. If a brick and mortar restaurant’s cost of doing business is too high due largely to property taxes, why beat up on the new food truck when it would feel so much better to fight for a lower tax assessment? Every jurisdiction in the country has a procedure for that. Screaming about a food truck in a town hall meeting is purely rhetorically. Using the legal rights available to every business owner in order to achieve better market position is the much smarter play. I look forward to the time when this view will predominate.

Food Trucks Find Creative Revenue Sources

June 14, 2011

The Wall Street Journal has a great article up on NYC food trucks. Food trucks now derive a significant share of revenue from catering events and adorning their vehicles with paid advertising. These are two more competitive advantages gourmet trucks have over traditional restaurants.

In case you haven’t followed the food truck phenomenon, it is a surprisingly contentious issue. Much of the opposition to food trucks comes not from the public health commissioner but from the brick and mortar restaurants with whom the trucks compete. The start-up and maintenance costs of traditional restaurants are much higher, they have to pay property taxes and a staff, and they can’t drive their food to where the hungry bellies are. It is easy to imagine how frustrating it must be to scrupulously abide by costly zoning rules and steep commercial property taxes only to see a falafel truck pull up a few doors down from you and divert some of your lunch traffic. Sometimes, things get heated. The one advantage restaurants still have is the ability to draw revenue from the sale of table-side booze, but that, too, may be evaporating.

Fellow University of Arkansas alum Baylen Linnekin owns the subject of food truck freedom. He has written extensively about their business and social impact at Reason.com and has presented on their innovative use of social media at the Conable Conference on Cuisine, Technology, and Development, Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester New York. He is the Executive Director of Keep Food Legal, the first and only nationwide membership organization devoted to culinary freedom.