Local Food - The Key to Sustainable Communities
Local food or the local food movement is a "collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies - one in which sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption is integrated to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place." It is part of the concept of local purchasing and local economies; a preference to buy locally produced goods and services rather than those produced by corporatized institutions.
Local food systems
Food system refers to how food is produced and reaches consumers, and why we eat what we do. It subsumes the terms ‘food chain’ and ‘food economy’, which are both too narrowly linear and/or economic. The food system can be broken down to three basic components: biological, economic/political, and social/cultural. The biological refers to the organic processes of food production; the economic/political refers to institutional moderation of different group's participation in and control of the system, and the social/cultural refers to the "personal relations, community values, and cultural relations which affect peoples use of food."
Local food systems are an alternative to the global corporate models where producers and consumers are separated through a chain of processors/manufacturers, shippers and retailers. They "are complex networks of relationships between actors including producers, distributors, retailers and consumers grounded in a particular place. These systems are the unit of measure by which participants in local food movements are working to increase food security and ensure the economic, ecological and social sustainability of communities."
 Definitions of "local"
A cheesemaking workshop with goats at Maker Faire 2011. The sign declares, "Eat your Zipcode!"
There is no single definition of "'local' or 'local food systems' in terms of the geographic distance between production and consumption. But defining 'local' based on marketing arrangements, such as farmers selling directly to consumers at regional farmers’ markets or to schools, is well recognized. There are "a number of different definitions for local [that] have been used or recorded by researchers assessing local food systems [and] most [are] informed by political or geographic boundaries. Among the more widely circulated and popular defining parameters is the concept of food miles, which has been suggested for policy recommendations." In 2008 Congress passed H.R.2419, which amended the "Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act". In the amendment "locally" and "regionally" are grouped together and are defined as
‘‘(I) the locality or region in which the final product is marketed, so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product; or ‘‘(II) the State in which the product is produced.
—Bill Text - 110th Congress (2007-2008) - THOMAS (Library of Congress)
In May 2010 the USDA acknowledged this definition in an informational leaflet.
The concept of "local" is also seen in terms of ecology, where food production is considered from the perspective of a basic ecological unit defined by its climate, soil, watershed, species and local agri-systems, a unit also called an ecoregion or a foodshed. The concept of the foodshed is similar to that of a watershed; it is an area where food is grown and eaten.
Contemporary local food market
The USDA included statistics about the growing local food market in the leaflet released in May 2010. The statistics are as follows; "Direct-to-consumer marketing amounted to $1.2 billion in current dollar sales in 2007, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, compared with $551 million in 1997. Direct-to-consumer sales accounted for 0.4 percent of total agricultural sales in 2007, up from 0.3 percent in 1997. If nonedible products are excluded from total agricultural sales, direct-to-consumer sales accounted for 0.8 percent of agricultural sales in 2007. The number of farmers’ markets rose to 5,274 in 2009, up from 2,756 in 1998 and 1,755 in 1994, according to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. In 2005, there were 1,144 community-supported agriculture organiza- tions (CSAs) in operation, up from 400 in 2001 and 2 in 1986, according to a study by the nonprofit, nongovernmental organization National Center for Appropriate Technology. In early 2010, estimates exceeded 1,400, but the number could be much larger. The number of farm to school programs, which use local farms as food suppliers for school meals programs, increased to 2,095 in 2009, up from 400 in 2004 and 2 in the 1996-97 school year, according to the National Farm to School Network. Data from the 2005 School Nutrition and Dietary Assessment Survey, sponsored by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, showed that 14 percent of school districts participated in Farm to School programs, and 16 percent reported having guidelines for purchasing locally grown produce."
Networks of local farmers and producers are now collaborating together in the UK, Europe as well as in Canada and the US to provide an on-line farmers market to customers. In this way, more consumers can now buy locally even on-line when they cannot attend a local farmers market. This also provides local farmers and producers another route to market and keeps overheads low as website costs are shared.
Examples of this are: Tastes of Anglia in the UK, BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies), and the 30 Mile Meal Project in the US.
Supermarkets are beginning to tap into the local foods market as well. Walmart announced plans in 2008 to spend $400 million during that year on locally grown produce Wegman's, a 71-store chain across the northeast, has purchased local foods for over 20 years as well. In their case, the produce manager in each store controls the influx of local foods-the relationships with the local farms are not centrally controlled. A recent study led by Miguel Gomez, a professor of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University and supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future found that in many instances, the supermarket supply chain did much better in terms of food miles and fuel consumption for each pound compared to farmers markets. It suggests that selling local foods through supermarkets may be more economically viable and sustainable than through farmers markets.
Those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced food sometimes call themselves locavores or localvores. This term began circulation around August 2005 in the San Francisco--area when a number of "foodies" launched a website, Locavores.com, after being inspired by the book "Coming Home to Eat" by ecologist Gary Paul Nabham.
If not LOCALLY PRODUCED, then Organic. This is one of the most readily available alternatives in the market and making this choice protects the environment and your body from harsh chemicals and hormones.
If not ORGANIC, then Family farm. When faced with Kraft or Cabot cheeses, Cabot, a dairy co-op in Vermont, is the better choice. Supporting family farms helps to keep food processing decisions out of the hands of corporate conglomeration.
If not FAMILY FARM, then Local business. Basics like coffee and bread make buying local difficult. Try a local coffee shop or bakery to keep your food dollar close to home.
If not a LOCAL BUSINESS, then Terroir, which means 'taste of the Earth'. Purchase foods famous for the region they are grown in and support the agriculture that produces your favorite non-local foods such as Brie cheese from Brie, France or parmesan cheese from Parma, Italy.
Hit the farmers' market before the supermarket. Plan your meal around local ingredients you find at the market.
Branch out. Maybe your usual food repertoire could use some fresh ideas. The farmers' market provides a perfect chance to try a new ingredient when it's in season, and lets you talk to its grower to find out the best way to prepare your new food. Flirt with your food producer!
Feed the freezer. Can't cook every night? Worried about your fresh produce going bad? It's easy. Make lasagna with local tomatoes or a soup packed with fresh veggies and freeze it! You can also make personal size meals for a brown bag lunch.
Go out! Many Bay Area restaurants emphasize local foods in their dishes. Ask around, you might be surprised how many options you find that serve up local flavor
This group of 'Locavores' started in the Bay Area, listed. The list gets longer with Locavores in the rest of California, & the rest of the United States. We have heard from many Locavores all over the world & there are many Locavores from unknown foodsheds.
If you would like to join us, click here
How can I learn about local foods in my area? The best organic food is what's grown closet to you. Use the Local Harvest website to find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
Join the Regenerative Communities Organic Gardening & Permaculture Group here! Join discussions and contribute your own gardening/permaculture tips. You can send messages to the entire group and share your garden tips and food recipes!