Local food

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For foods with protected geographical names, see Geographical indication.
The Marylebone farmers' market in London, United Kingdom.

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."[1]

It is not solely a geographical concept. A United States Department of Agriculture publication explains local food as "related to the distance between food producers and consumers," as well as "defined in terms of social and supply chain characteristics."[2]

Local food systems[edit]

Local food system diagram

Food system refers to how food is produced, reaches consumers, and consumer food choices. The terminology subsumes the terms "food chain" and "food economy", which are both too narrowly linear and/or economic. The food system can be broken down into three basic components: biological, economic/political, and social/cultural. The biological aspect refers to the organic food production processes; the economic/political aspect refers to institutional moderation of different groups' participation in and control of the system; and the social/cultural aspect refers to the "personal relations, community sports, and cultural relations which affect peoples' interaction with food."[3]

The local food system represents an alternative to the global food model, a model that increases the separation between the producer and consumer via the middleman(e.g. processors/manufacturers, shippers, and retailers). The contributors to the local food system "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."[4]

Definitions of "local"[edit]

A cheesemaking workshop with goats at Maker Faire 2011. The sign declares, "Eat your Zipcode!"

No single definition of "local" or "local food systems" exists. The geographic distances between production and consumption varies within the movement. However, the general public recognizes that "local" describes the marketing arrangement (e.g. farmers selling directly to consumers at regional farmers’ markets or to schools).[5] 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."[6] 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.

In May 2010 the USDA acknowledged this definition in an informational leaflet.[7]

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 agrisystems, 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[edit]

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 non-edible 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 organizations (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."[5]

Using metrics including some of those cited above, a Vermont-based farm and food advocacy organization, Strolling of the Heifers annually publishes the Locavore Index, a ranking of the 50 U. S. states and the District of Columbia. In the 2014 Index, the three top-ranking states in the Index were Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, while the three lowest-ranking states were Texas, Nevada and Arizona.[8]

Networks of local farmers and producers are now collaborating in the UK, Canada and the US to provide online farmers markets to consumers. This technological change enables more consumers to participate in farmers markets. This development also allows local farmers and producers to harvest and prepare produce according to orders, and means that farmers are also able to spread the website costs. Consumers have access to a huge inventory of farms and their products, without having to be locked into buying whatever a CSA provides.

Websites now exist that aim to connect people to local food growers. They often include a map where fruit and vegetable growers can pinpoint their location and advertise their produce. Some, such as RipeNear.Me operate on a global scale, meaning that people all over the world can find and connect with local growers in their community.

Supermarket chains also participate in the local food scene. In 2008 Walmart announced plans to invest $400 million in locally grown produce[9] Other chains, like Wegman's (a 71-store chain across the northeast) has a long and cooperative history with the local food movement. In this chain's case, each store's produce manager oversees the influx of local foods.[9] A recent study led by Miguel Gomez, a professor of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, in cooperation with 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. The study suggests that selling locally grown foods through supermarkets may be more economically viable and sustainable than through farmers markets.[10]

Locavore and invasivore[edit]

Those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced food sometimes call themselves locavores or localvores.[11] This term began circulating in August 2005 in the San Francisco area, when a number of "foodies" launched Locavores.com, a website inspired by the ecologist Gary Paul Nabhan's "Coming Home to Eat."

More recently, an "invasivore" movement has emerged as a subset of the locavore movement, which encourages the consumption of nonindigenous invasive species with the intent of controlling harmful populations.[12]

Local food campaigns[edit]

In the city of Graz (Austria) several restaurants display a sign with a "Genuss Region" logo, which refers to the restaurant using ingredients from local sources and a commitment to the traditions of cultivating regional foods.[13]

North Carolina 10% campaign[edit]

Launched in late 2009, North Carolina’s 10% campaign is aimed at stimulating economic development, creating jobs and promoting North Carolina’s agricultural offerings.[14] The campaign is a partnership between The Center for Environmental Farming Systems, (CEFS) with support from N.C. Cooperative Extension and the Golden LEAF Foundation. More than 4,600 individuals and 543 businesses, including 76 restaurants, have signed on to the campaign through the website http://www.nc10percent.com as they have pledged to spend 10 percent of their food budget on locally-sourced foods. Participants receive weekly emails prompting them to record how much they have spent on local food that week. Currently the campaign reports that more than $14 million has been recorded by participants. "The $10 million mark is a true testament to the commitment of our agricultural community and the quality of North Carolina-grown products."[15]

The North Carolina Center for Environmental Farming estimates that if all North Carolinians allocated 10% of their food expenditures to locally produced food, $3.5 billion would be generated for the state’s economy. Brunswick, Cabarrus, Chatham, Guilford, Forsyth, Onslow and Rockingham counties have adopted resolutions in support of the campaign. Stores are advertising local products with buy-local food labels. CEFS co-director, Nancy Creamer explains the following: “North Carolina is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the increased consumer demand for locally produced foods …Agriculture is the backbone of our economy. The state’s climate, soils and coastal resources support production of a wide variety of produce, meats, fish and seafood.”[16]

Benefits of eating local[edit]

Community benefits[edit]

A community supported agriculture system is extremely beneficial to a community because it “enables consumers to support local farmers, obtain food that might be fresher than store-bought food, and learn more information from farmers about how the food is grown." Furthermore, local eating can support public objectives. Local eating can promote community interaction by fostering relationships between farmers and consumers. Even shopping experiences and interaction at local farmers’ markets have public benefits such as “bonus-incentive or gleaning programs, the hosting of health sessions and dissemination of informational materials, and establishment of an organized central location that facilitates community engagement." In fact, farmers’ markets inspire more sociable behavior. Studies show that 75% of shoppers at farmers’ markets arrived in groups while only 16% of shoppers at supermarkets arrive in groups. Only 9% of customers in chain supermarkets had a social interaction with another customer and 14% had an interaction with an employee, but at farmers’ markets, 63% had an interaction with a fellow shopper and 42% had an interaction with an employee or farmer report. Local food builds community vibrancy and retains local traditions while establishing a local identity through a unique sense of community.

Environmental benefits[edit]

As stated in the New York Times "Foods that are minimally processed, in season and locally grown, like those available at farmers’ markets and backyard gardens, are generally the most climate-friendly." They are the most climate friendly because the energy needed to store and transport the meat is removed from the equation. There is a decrease in greenhouse gasses emitted because locally grown goods do not need to be transported across the country, or constantly cooled in large refrigerators. Besides the benefit of not having to transport food, locally grown foods are also better because of their smaller sizes. According to the USDA, more than 335 million tons of manure are produced annually in American farms. In factory farms, this waste is extremely concentrated, and without proper regulation and disposal, the waste pollutes the surrounding areas. The Natural Resource Defense Council even remarks that factory farms have reached a point in which the farms threaten public health. Pollutants from the manure and urine of overcrowded factory farms lead to water and air pollutions. Some pollutants include hydrogen sulfide and various nitrates, all of which are dangerous, even at low levels. Factory farms are also considered unsanitary because they place animals in overcrowded conditions in fully enclosed rooms. Resultantly, these rooms often become the perfect breeding grounds for diseases. Locally grown foods support free-range or pasture-grazing farming methods, decreasing the need for large factory farms. With fewer factory farms, waste will not be so concentrated and will thus not have such profound effects on the immediate surrounding areas.

Economic benefits[edit]

A critical objective for any community is to promote investments that serve to increase the economic and social opportunities available for residents. If the United States wishes to sustain current agricultural production in the future, there must be a market for emerging farmers to counter the effects of a collectively aging farmer population. The introduction of farmers markets into the local economy can have a direct positive impact on the lives of all citizens within the community. In a study conducted in the state of Iowa (Hood 2010), it was concluded that the introduction of 152 farmers markets into the state economy led to the creation of 576 jobs, a $59.4 million increase in output, and a $17.8 million increase in income UCSUSA report. While this is just one state, other studies conducted in different regions have produced similar results on the positive economic impact of more local farming on a specific community. Otto’s study further reported that each individual farmers market produced 3.8 new jobs per market. However, these economic developments are not limited to local food markets. Surveys of towns in Oregon, Lev, Brewer, and Stephenson (2003), found that farmers markets were the primary reason that tourists visited local towns on the weekend. This gross economic impact can be calculated, as in the case of the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans, where this single market contributed over $10 million to the local economy. The potential reauthorization of the Federal Farmers Market Promotion Program led to the creation of thousands of jobs within local economies, and further collective economic growth. The logical conclusion is that with the increase in economic benefits due to local farming, room is created in this ever expanding industry.


Food miles[edit]

Critics of the local foods movement question the fundamental principles behind the push to eat locally. For example, the concept that fewer “food miles” translates to a more sustainable meal has not been supported by major scientific studies. According to a study conducted at Lincoln University in New Zealand: “As a concept, food miles has gained some traction with the popular press and certain groups overseas. However, this debate which only includes the distance food travels is spurious as it does not consider total energy use especially in the production of the product.”[17]

The only study to date that directly focuses on whether or not a local diet is more helpful in reducing greenhouse gases was conducted by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews at Carnegie-Mellon. They concluded that “dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household’s food-related climate footprint than ‘buying local’”.[18]

Environmental impact[edit]

However, numerous studies have shown that locally and sustainably grown foods actually release more greenhouse gases than food made in factory farms. The "Land Degradation" section of the United Nations report Livestock's Long Shadow concludes that "Intensification - in terms of increased productivity both in livestock production and in feed crop agriculture - can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation".[19] Furthermore, Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia found that cattle raised on open pastures release 50% more greenhouse gas emissions than cattle raised in factory farms.[20] Additionally, Adrian Williams of Cranfield University in England found that free range and organic raised chickens have a 20% greater impact on global warming than chickens raised in factory farm conditions, and organic egg production had a 14% higher impact on the climate than factory farm egg production.[21] Furthermore, studies such as Christopher Weber's report on Food Miles have shown that the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions in production far outweighs those in transportation: which implies that locally grown food is actually worse for the environment than food made in factory farms. However, the fertilizer used for growing organic vegetables has less of an impact on the environment than conventional fertilizer.

Efficiency and feasibility[edit]

While locavorism has been promoted as a feasible alternative to modern food production, some believe it might negatively affect the efficiency of production. As technological advances have influenced the amount of output of farms, the productivity of farmers has skyrocketed in the last 70 years.[22] Locavorism requires more land to be turned over to agriculture, leading to more global deforestation, which in turn could affect CO2 levels and reduce biodiversity. The modern food industry and its methods are criticised regarding their environmental effects, but there might also be some adverse consequences of locavorism.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Feenstra, G. (2002) Creating space for sustainable food systems: lessons from the field. Agriculture and Human Values. 19(2). 99-106.
  2. ^ Martinez, Steve. "Local Food Systems Concepts, Impacts, and issues". Economic Research Service. Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  3. ^ Tansey, Geoff; Worsley, Tony (1995). Food System - A Guide. Earthscan.
  4. ^ Dunne, Jonnie B.; Chambers, Kimberlee J.; Giombolini, Katlyn J.; Schlegel, Sheridan A. (March 2011). "What does ‘local’ mean in the grocery store? Multiplicity in food retailers' perspectives on sourcing and marketing local foods". Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems (Cambridge University Press) 26 (1): 46–59. doi:10.1017/S1742170510000402. 
  5. ^ a b Martinez, Steve. "Local Food Systems Concepts, Impacts, and Issues". Economic Research Service. Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  6. ^ Dunne, Jonnie B.; Chambers, Kimberlee J.; Giombolini, Katlyn J.; Schlegel, Sheridan A. "What does ‘local’ mean in the grocery store? Multiplicity in food retailers' perspectives on sourcing and marketing local foods". Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. pp. 46–59. doi:10.1017/S1742170510000402. 
  7. ^ Consumer demand for food that is locally produced, marketed, and consumed is generating, Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues, By Steve Martinez, Michael Hand, Michelle Da Pra, Susan Pollack, Katherine Ralston, Travis Smith, Stephen Vogel, Shellye Clark, Luanne Lohr, Sarah Low, and Constance Newman, May 2010, ERS (Economic Research Service) Report Summary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  8. ^ "Strolling of the Heifers 2014 Locavore Index highlights benefits of food from local farms," Strolling of the Heifers
  9. ^ a b Burros, Marian (6 August 2008). "Supermarket Chains Narrow Their Sights". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2011. 
  10. ^ Prevor, Jim (1 October 2010). "Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit". Retrieved 20 July 2011. 
  11. ^ Roosevelt, M. (2006) The Lure of the 100-Mile Diet. Time Magazine. Sunday June 11, 2006. Accessed on Nov 1, 2007 at 10:35 am PDT.
  12. ^ A Diet for an Invaded Planet. New York Times January 2, 2011.
  13. ^ Salameh, Ramy (July 30, 2012). "Graz Serves Up a Grand Design". The Epoch Times. Retrieved August 16, 2012. 
  14. ^ http://www.cefs.ncsu.edu.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/A
  15. ^ "North Carolina campaign promoting locally grown food." Southeast Farm Press [Online Exclusive] 22 Nov. 2011. General OneFile. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.
  16. ^ 10% campaign off to a strong start. (2011, January). NC Farm Bureau Magazine, Retrieved from http://www.ncfbmagazine.org/2011/01/10-campaign-off-to-strong-start/
  17. ^ Caroline Saunders, Andrew Barber, and Greg Taylor, “Food Miles – Comparative Energy/Emissions Performance of New Zealand’s Agriculture Industry” Research Report No. 285 Lincoln University, New Zealand, July 2007. 93.
  18. ^ Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews, “Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States ” Environ. Sci. Technol., 42, no.10 (2008): 3508.
  19. ^ "Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options." Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. United Nations, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.
  20. ^ Raloff, Janet. "AAAS: Climate-friendly Dining ... Meats | Environment | Science News."AAAS: Climate-friendly Dining ... Meats | Environment | Science News. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.
  21. ^ Stănescu, Vasille. "€œGreen€ Eggs and Ham? The Myth of Sustainable Meat and the Danger of the Local - 10 December 2010." €œGreen€ Eggs and Ham? The Myth of Sustainable Meat and the Danger of the Local. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.
  22. ^ Number of People Fed Annually By One Farmer. N.d. Photograph. American Farm Bureau Federation, Washington D.C.

Further reading[edit]

  • McWilliams, James. Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.
  • Wilk, Richard, ed. Fast Food/Slow Food: The Cultural Economy of the Global Food System. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 2006.

External links[edit]