Local food

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The Marylebone farmers' market in London, United Kingdom
A map of wheat production (average percentage of land used for its production times average yield in each grid cell) across the world

Local food is food that is produced within a short distance of where it is consumed, often accompanied by a social structure and supply chain different from the large-scale supermarket system.[1]

Local food (or locavore) movements aim to connect food producers and consumers in the same geographic region, to develop more self-reliant and resilient food networks; improve local economies; or to affect the health, environment, community, or society of a particular place.[2] The term has also been extended to include not only the geographic location of supplier and consumer but can also be "defined in terms of social and supply chain characteristics."[3] For example, local food initiatives often promote sustainable and organic farming practices, although these are not explicitly related to the geographic proximity of producer and consumer.

Local food represents an alternative to the global food model, which often sees food traveling long distances before it reaches the consumer.[4]


In the US, the local food movement has been traced to the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, which spawned agricultural subsidies and price supports.[5] The contemporary American movement can be traced back to proposed resolutions to the Society for Nutrition Education's 1981 guidelines. In 1994, Chicago pop culture made local food a trend in the Midwest. These largely unsuccessful resolutions encouraged increased local production to slow farmland loss. The program described "sustainable diets" - a term then new to the American public. At the time, the resolutions were met with strong criticism from pro-business institutions, but have had a strong resurgence of backing since 2000.[6]

In 2008, the United States farm bill was revised to emphasise nutrition: "it provides low-income seniors with vouchers for use at local produce markets, and it added more than $1 billion to the fresh fruit and vegetable program, which serves healthy snacks to 3 million low-income children in schools".[7]


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

No single definition of local food systems exists.[8] 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).[3] Definitions can be based on political or geographic boundaries, or on food miles.[4] The American Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 states that:

(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.

— H. R. 2419, [9]

In May 2010 the USDA acknowledged this definition in an informational leaflet.[3]

State definitions of "local" can be included in laws, statutes, regulations, or program materials, however few state laws explicitly define "local" food. Most states use "local" (or similar words like "native") in food procurement and marketing policies to mean that the food was produced within that state.[8]

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. Similar to watersheds, foodsheds follow the process of where food comes from and where it ends up.[10]

Contemporary local food markets[edit]

In America, local food sales were worth $1.2 billion in 2007, more than doubled from $551 million in 1997. There were 5,274 farmers' markets in 2009, compared to 2,756 in 1998. In 2005, there were 1,144 community-supported agriculture organizations (CSAs). There were 2,095 farm to school programs in 2009.[3] Using metrics such as these, a Vermont-based farm and food advocacy organization, Strolling of the Heifers, publishes the annual Locavore Index, a ranking of the 50 U.S. states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. In the 2016 Index, the three top-ranking states were Vermont, Maine and Oregon, while the three lowest-ranking states were Nevada, Texas and Florida.[11]

Websites now exist that aim to connect people to local food growers.[12] They often include a map where fruit and vegetable growers can pinpoint their location and advertise their produce.

Supermarket chains also participate in the local food scene. In 2008 Walmart announced plans to invest $400 million in locally grown produce.[13] Other chains, like Wegman's (a 71-store chain across the northeast), have long cooperated with the local food movement.[13] A recent study led by economist Miguel Gomez found that the supermarket supply chain often did much better in terms of food miles and fuel consumption for each pound compared to farmers markets.[14]

Local food campaigns[edit]

Local food campaigns have been successful in supporting small local farmers. After declining for more than a century, the number of small farms increased 20% in the six years to 2008, to 1.2 million, according to the Agriculture Department.[15]

Launched in 2009, North Carolina's 10% local food campaign is aimed at stimulating economic development, creating jobs and promoting the state's agricultural offerings.[16][17] 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.[18]

In 2017, a campaign was started in Virginia by the Common Grains Alliance mirroring many of the efforts of the North Carolina campaign.[19]

Motivations for eating local[edit]

Motivations for eating local food include healthier food, environmental benefits, and economic or community benefits. Many local farmers, whom locavores turn to for their source of food, use the crop rotation method when producing their organic crops. This method not only aids in reducing the use of pesticides and pollutants, but also keeps the soil in good condition rather than depleting it.[20] Locavores seek out farmers close to where they live, and this significantly reduces the amount of travel time required for food to get from farm to table. Reducing the travel time makes it possible to transport the crops while they are still fresh, without using chemical preservatives.[21] The combination of local farming techniques and short travel distances makes the food consumed more likely to be fresh, an added benefit.



Local eating can support public objectives. It can promote community interaction by fostering relationships between farmers and consumers. Farmers' markets can inspire more sociable behavior, encouraging shoppers to visit in groups. 75% of shoppers at farmers' markets arrived in groups compared to 16% of shoppers at supermarkets. At farmers' markets, 63% had an interaction with a fellow shopper, and 42% had an interaction with an employee or farmer.[22] More affluent areas tend to have at least some access to local, organic food, whereas low-income communities, which in America often have African American and Hispanic populations, may have little or none, and "are often replete with calorie-dense, low-quality food options", adding to the obesity crisis.[7][23]


Local foods require less energy to store and transport, possibly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.[24] In local or regional food systems it can be easier to trace resource flows and recycle nutrients in that specific region.[25] It can also be a way to preserve open landscapes and support biodiversity locally.[26][27][28]


Farmers' markets create local jobs. In a study in Iowa (Hood 2010), the introduction of 152 farmers' markets created 576 jobs, a $59.4 million increase in output, and a $17.8 million increase in income.[22] Promoting local food can support local actors and create job opportunities.[26][28][27]


Since local foods travel a shorter distance and are often sold directly from producer to consumer, they may not require as much processing or packaging as other foods that need to be transported over long distances. If they are not processed, they may contain fewer added sugars or preservatives. The term "local" is sometimes synonymous with sustainable or organic practices, which can also arguably provide added health benefits.[8]


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."[29] The locavore movement has been criticized by Vasile Stănescu, the co-senior editor of the Critical Animal Studies book series, as being idealistic and for not actually achieving the environmental benefits of the claim that the reduced food miles decrease the number of gasses emitted.[30] Studies have shown that the amount of gasses saved by local transportation while existing, does not have a significant enough impact to consider it a benefit. Food miles concept does not consider agriculture, which is having contributed the highest when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, season and transportation medium also makes a difference.[31]

Food choice[edit]

An infographic from Our World In Data emphasising the relative importance of food choice over emissions from transport for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Transport related emissions are in red.

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'".[32] An Our World In Data post makes the same point, that food choice is overwhelmingly more important than emissions from transport.[33] However, a 2022 study suggests global food miles CO2 emissions are 3.5–7.5 times higher than previously estimated, with transport accounting for about 19% of total food-system emissions,[34][35] though shifting towards plant-based diets would still remain substantially more important.[36] The study concludes that "a shift towards plant-based foods must be coupled with more locally produced items, mainly in affluent countries".[35]

Environmental impact[edit]

Numerous studies have shown that locally and sustainably grown foods 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".[37] 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.[38] 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. [citation needed]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.

Economic 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.[39] As technological advances have influenced the amount of output of farms, the productivity of farmers has skyrocketed in the last 70 years. These latter criticisms combine with deeper concerns of food safety, cited on the lines of the historical pattern of economic or food safety inefficiencies of subsistence farming which form the topic of the book The Locavore's Dilemma by geographer Pierre Desrochers and public policy scholar Hiroko Shimizu.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Waltz, Christopher L. (2011). Local food systems: background and issues. Nova Science Publishers. ISBN 9781617615948. OCLC 899542944.
  2. ^ Feenstra, G. (2002) Creating space for sustainable food systems: lessons from the field. Agriculture and Human Values. 19(2). 99-106.
  3. ^ a b c d Martinez, Steve; Hand, Michael; Da Pra, Michelle; Pollack, Susan; Ralston, Katherine; Smith, Travis; Vogel, Stephen; Clark, Shellye; Lohr, Luanne; Low, Sarah; Newman, Constance (May 2010). "Economic Research Report Number 97: Local Food Systems Concepts, Impacts, and Issues" (PDF). Economic Research Service. ERS (Economic Research Service). Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  4. ^ a b 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. 26 (1). Cambridge University Press: 46–59. doi:10.1017/S1742170510000402. S2CID 154308247.
  5. ^ "Historical Reflections on the Current Local Food and Agriculture Movement | Essays in History". www.essaysinhistory.com. Archived from the original on 6 September 2017. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  6. ^ Gussow, Joan (July 1998). "Dietary Guidelines for Sustainability: Twelve Years Later". Society for Nutrition Education. 31 (4): 194–200. doi:10.1016/S0022-3182(99)70441-3.
  7. ^ a b Dannenburg, Andrew (2011). Making healthy places designing and building for health, well-being, and sustainability. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
  8. ^ a b c "Defining Local Food: An Analysis of State Approaches and Challenges". Vermont Law School. Retrieved 23 September 2021.
  9. ^ "One Hundred Tenth Congress of the United States of America, at the Second Session" (PDF). www.gpo.gov. Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 April 2022.
  10. ^ "What is a food shed?". MSU Extension. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  11. ^ "Strolling of the Heifers 2016 Locavore Index: Which states are most committed to locally-sourced food?," Strolling of the Heifers
  12. ^ Craven, Teri J.; Krejci, Caroline C.; Mittal, Anuj (January 2018). "Logistics Best Practices for Regional Food Systems: A Review". Sustainability. 10 (1): 168. doi:10.3390/su10010168.
  13. ^ a b Burros, Marian (6 August 2008). "Supermarket Chains Narrow Their Sights". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2011.
  14. ^ Prevor, Jim (1 October 2010). "Jim Prevor's Perishable Pundit". Retrieved 20 July 2011.
  15. ^ Gogoi, Pallavi. "The Local Food Movement Benefits Farms, Food Production, Environment." The Local Food Movement. Amy Francis. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. At Issue. Rpt. from "The Rise of the 'Locavore': How the Strengthening Local Food Movement in Towns Across the U.S. Is Reshaping Farms and Food Retailing." Business Week Online. 2008. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 27 March 2014.
  16. ^ "A Community and Local Government Guide to Developing Local Food Systems in North Carolina". cefs.ncsu.edu. Center for Environmental Farming Systems. 2013. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  17. ^ "10% campaign off to a strong start". NC Farm Bureau Magazine. January 2011. Archived from the original on 26 April 2012.
  18. ^ "North Carolina campaign promoting locally grown food." Southeast Farm Press [Online Exclusive] 22 November 2011. General OneFile. Web. 11 December 2011.
  19. ^ Debevoise, Nell Derick. "Five Lessons For Making Change From 18 Impact-Driven Farmers". Forbes. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  20. ^ "The Local Food Movement." Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection.Detroit: Gale, 2010. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 12 February 2014
  21. ^ "The Local Food Movement." Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 12 February 2014.
  22. ^ a b O'Hara, Jeffrey K. (August 2011). "Market Forces: Creating Jobs through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems" (PDF). ucsusa.org. Union of Concerned Scientists—Citizens and Scientists for Environmental Solutions. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 September 2012. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  23. ^ Eagle, Taylor (2012). Understanding Childhood Obesity in America: Linkages between Household Income, Community Resources, and Children's Behaviors (163.5 ed.). American Heart Journal. pp. 836–843.
  24. ^ "NRDC: Pollution from Giant Livestock Farms Threatens Public Health". www.nrdc.org. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  25. ^ Blay-Palmer, Alison; Santini, Guido; Dubbeling, Marielle; Renting, Henk; Taguchi, Makiko; Giordano, Thierry (May 2018). "Validating the City Region Food System Approach: Enacting Inclusive, Transformational City Region Food Systems". Sustainability. 10 (5): 1680. doi:10.3390/su10051680. ISSN 2071-1050.
  26. ^ a b Enthoven, Laura; Van den Broeck, Goedele (1 October 2021). "Local food systems: Reviewing two decades of research". Agricultural Systems. 193: 103226. Bibcode:2021AgSys.19303226E. doi:10.1016/j.agsy.2021.103226. ISSN 0308-521X.
  27. ^ a b Granvik, Madeleine; Joosse, Sofie; Hunt, Alan; Hallberg, Ingela (November 2017). "Confusion and Misunderstanding—Interpretations and Definitions of Local Food". Sustainability. 9 (11): 1981. doi:10.3390/su9111981. ISSN 2071-1050.
  28. ^ a b Hinrichs, Clare (1 December 2016). "Fixing food with ideas of "local" and "place"". Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences. 6 (4): 759–764. Bibcode:2016JEnSS...6..759H. doi:10.1007/s13412-015-0266-4. ISSN 2190-6491. S2CID 141095080.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Stănescu, Vasile (2010). "'Green' Eggs and Ham? The Myth of Sustainable Meat and the Danger of the Local" (PDF). Journal for Critical Animal Studies 8(1/2):8–32.
  31. ^ "Is buying local food always sustainable?". earthsinsight.com.
  32. ^ Weber, Christopher L.; Matthews, H. Scott (May 2008). "Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States". Environmental Science & Technology. 42 (10): 3508–3513. Bibcode:2008EnST...42.3508W. doi:10.1021/es702969f. ISSN 0013-936X. PMID 18546681.
  33. ^ "You want to reduce the carbon footprint of your food? Focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local". Our World in Data. Retrieved 11 April 2023.
  34. ^ "Climate impact of food miles three times greater than previously believed, study finds". The Guardian. 20 June 2022. Retrieved 13 July 2022.
  35. ^ a b Li, Mengyu; Jia, Nanfei; Lenzen, Manfred; Malik, Arunima; Wei, Liyuan; Jin, Yutong; Raubenheimer, David (June 2022). "Global food-miles account for nearly 20% of total food-systems emissions". Nature Food. 3 (6): 445–453. doi:10.1038/s43016-022-00531-w. ISSN 2662-1355. PMID 37118044. S2CID 249916086.
  36. ^ "How much do food miles matter and should you buy local produce?". New Scientist. Retrieved 13 July 2022.
  37. ^ "Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options." Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. United Nations, n.d. Web. 11 February 2013.
  38. ^ Raloff, Janet. "AAAS: Climate-friendly Dining ... Meats | Environment | Science News."AAAS: Climate-friendly Dining ... Meats | Environment | Science News. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 February 2013.
  39. ^ a b "Book Review: The Locavore's Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet". The Independent Institute. Retrieved 26 March 2016.

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.