Local food

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The Marylebone farmers' market in London, United Kingdom.

"Local food", "local food movement" or the "Locavores" are a movement which aim to connect food producers and food consumers in the same geographic region; in order to develop more self-reliant and resilient food networks, improve local economies, or for health, environmental, community, or social impact in a particular place.[1] The term has also been extended to include not only geographic location of supplier and consumer but can also be "defined in terms of social and supply chain characteristics."[2] For example, local food initiatives often promote sustainable and organic farming practices, although these are not explicitly related to the geographic proximity of the producer and consumer.

Local food system diagram

Local food represents an alternative to the global food model, a model which often sees food travelling long distances before it reaches the consumer. A local food network involves relationships between food producers, distributors, retailers, and consumers in a particular place where they work together to increase food security and ensure economic, ecological and social sustainability of a community[3]


The contemporary American movement associated with the term can be traced back to proposed resolutions to the Society for Nutrition Education's 1981 guidelines. 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 the year 2000.[4]

In 2008, revisions were made to the United States Farm Bill and put an emphasis on 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”.[5]

Definitions of "local"

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).[6] 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."[7] 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 [640 km] 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.[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. The concept of the foodshed is similar to that of a watershed; it is an area where food is grown and eaten.

The term "local" is widely understood by the general public as a description of regional distribution of food. Though that does not involve a regulation of distance between the farmer, their food and the consumer. It is the consumers responsibility to conclude how "local" the food is.

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 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."[6]

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.[9]

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.

Supermarket chains also participate in the local food scene. In 2008 Walmart announced plans to invest $400 million in locally grown produce[10] 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.[10] 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.[11]

Locavore and invasivore

A locavore or localvore (the term is a neologism) is a person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market. One common – but not universal – definition of "local" food is food grown within 100 miles (160 km) of its point of purchase or consumption.[12] The locavore movement in the United States and elsewhere was spawned as a result of interest in sustainability and eco-consciousness becoming more prevalent.[13] The word "locavore" was the word of the year for 2007 in the Oxford American Dictionary.[14] The suffix "vore" comes from the Latin word vorare (as in "devour"), and is used to form nouns indicating what kind of a diet an animal has. This word was the creation of Jessica Prentice of the San Francisco Bay Area at the time of World Environment Day 2005.[15] It may be rendered "localvore", depending on regional differences.[16][17]

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.[18]

Local food campaigns

In order to stimulate use of local foods as well as better metrics for local food production, availability and consumption, 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.[9]

Locavores are interested in making an impact on their community by supporting the local farmers. The locavore movement has been successful in supporting small local farmers. After declining for more than a century, the number of small farms has increased 20% in the past six years, to 1.2 million, according to the Agriculture Department.[19]


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.[20]

North Carolina 10% campaign

Launched in late 2009, North Carolina’s 10% campaign is aimed at stimulating economic development, creating jobs and promoting North Carolina’s agricultural offerings.[21] 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 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."[22]

The Center for Environmental Farming Systems 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.”[23]

Growing Power, Inc.

Urban environments are known for their food deserts in areas of poverty, and most of the food available is shipped in. Growing Power, Inc. combats has a mission of “helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities”.[24] There are several different farms in the Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago area that are good agricultural practice (GAP) certified.

The Dill Pickle Food Co-op

Since its inception in 2004 by 40 local residents, Dill Pickle has remained connected with its regional people in Chicago, IL. This organization is a good example of the widespread support of local food, as it grossed $1.3 million in revenue in its first year open in 2009. And since the people own this co-op, it is influenced by the stakeholders to always uphold their local and fresh prerogative. Dill Pickle utilizes a user-friendly interface. Their facility convenes all fresh, local food in one location, making it extremely convenient for its customers.[25]

Fifth Season Co-op

Fifth season Cooperative, established in 2010, functions differently than most other local food co-ops in that it does not have a store front. Fifth Season has six member classes encompassing everyone involved in getting local food from the ground to the table. Member classes include: Workers, Processors, Producer Groups, Buyers and Distributors. The Co-op functions as a food hub that helps to take down the barriers to market entry for smaller local growers and processors by offering GAP auditing, an insurance umbrella and connection to the distributor member's sales network and logistics. This model works well for moving large volumes of locally produced foods into local establishments that already serve the public such as restaurants, hospitals and schools. Fifth Season is located in Viroqua, WI and aggregates from a 150-mile (240 km) radius. [26]

Motivations for eating local

There are a number of reasons why people choose to participate in the locavore lifestyle. These motivations include healthier food, environmental benefits, and economic or community benefits. Many local farmers that 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.[27] Also, locavores seek out farmers close to where they live, and this significantly reduces the amount of travel time taken for the food to get from the farm to the locavore's table. Reducing the travel time makes it possible to transport the crops while they are still fresh, without using chemical preservatives.[28] The combination of local farming techniques and short travel distances makes the food consumed more likely to be organic and fresh, which is an added benefit.

Benefits of eating local

Community benefits

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.[29] Local food builds community vibrancy and retains local traditions while establishing a local identity through a unique sense of community.

Obesity is a disease-prompting condition as it leads to fatal diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Every pound counts. Simply increase one’s weight by 15 pounds and they raise their risk of getting diabetes by 50%.[30] Obesity is defined as an “energy imbalance, whereby energy intake exceeds energy expenditure, and the excess is stored as adipose tissue”.[31] This epidemic not only has an effect on physical health, but mental health as well. Obesity correlates highly with depression, as there is a negative social stigma surrounding the physicality of these people.[32] Obese individuals are assumed to be mean, lazy, and stupid. They are less likely to gain the same high-paying jobs as thinner people. They thus become a marginalized group. This problem cannot simply be fixed by an increase in physical activity. The foods that are available in America are extremely calorically dense and are designed to keep people coming back. Fat, sugar, and salt pull people in and begin a cycle of unhealthy eating from a young age. Obesity is the direct effect of a lack of local food accessibility. People may argue that genetics play a large part in a person’s weight, but studies now show that genetics can only influence 30% of a person’s physical stature.[30] The rest relies on daily actions, which are influenced by individual proclivities and their environment. Access and education surrounding local healthy food could be the key to solving this health crisis.

User Groups

Food accessibility is a topic that affects everyone in America. Supermarkets tend to carry foods that have been shipped halfway around the world, chemically ripened, and off-season. However, more affluent areas tend to have at least some access to local, organic food. It is the low-income communities that are especially vulnerable to food deserts ; areas in which there is little to no access to healthy food. These neighborhoods are not only lacking healthy food, they are overrun with unhealthy options: “disadvantaged neighborhoods are often replete with calorie-dense, low-quality food options” which adds to the obesity crisis rampant in America.[33] In America, many low-income areas correlate to highly African-American and Hispanic populations, so in many ways, food deserts tend to continually marginalize these races. These groups are then continually categorized as vulnerable populations. The study conducted by Taylor Eagle et al. gives a strong example between the correlation between socioeconomic class and accessibility to fruits and vegetables. It also exemplifies the prevalence of unhealthy food in more impoverished areas of Michigan cities.[34]

This study focused on a particular demographic: children in school. The test subjects are 6th grade children and although the focus is on mean income correlating with food consumption, the test site is the cafeteria. Childhood obesity is highly linked to adult obesity so in order to make an impact; one must target the younger subset. Targeting a younger subset is the best plan because to achieve full growth and reduce their risk of diseases, children must eat healthy into their adolescent years.[35] A cafeteria creates an atmosphere of little choice. What you see is what you get. According to Terry Huang, “schools play a vital and visible role in their communities”.[36] Why is there no better model for food accessibility in these arenas? Children can become a user group for food accessibility, as they are models for the future health of this country. What children choose to eat at a young age will effect their food choices at an older age.[35] In other words, what we eat as children is what we will eat as adults unless change is forced at schools. This trend continues even into college, where students play an active role in changing the face of food. College students are of one of the worst demographics of unhealthy eaters and this becomes a target for providing local, natural food access.[37] In all, low-income areas and school children are undernourished and overfed. Low-income populations should focus on joining together as a community to ask for these local sources of food as well as educate their peers about the dangers of fast food. School children should also have access to education to begin lifelong healthy-eating habits. This opens up a pocket of opportunity that will not only aid health, but also help build community in diverse areas.

Environmental benefits

As stated in a New York Times opinion piece, "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."[38] 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 gases emitted because locally grown goods do not need to be transported across the country, or constantly cooled in large refrigerators. Another benefit of locally grown food is its lower concentration of pollution sources. 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.[39] Pollutants from the manure and urine of overcrowded factory farms lead to water and air pollution. Some of these pollutants, such as hydrogen sulfide and various nitrates, are dangerous even at low levels. Factory farms are also considered unsanitary because they place animals in overcrowded conditions in fully enclosed rooms that 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.

Growing and selling foods locally save our environment from serious detriments. With local farms "food miles" can essentially be eliminated, that includes the pollution that which accompanies it. There would be no need to establish more expansive industrial farms that contaminates the soil, whereas local farmers are able to preserve soil for sustainability.

Economic benefits

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.[40] 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

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.”[41] The locavore movement has been criticized by Dr. 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 decreases the amount of gasses emitted.[42] 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.

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’”.[43]

Environmental impact

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".[44] 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.[45] 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. Stănescu, Vasille. "€œGreen€ Eggs and Ham? The Myth of Sustainable Meat, and 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.

Efficiency and feasibility

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. 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


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Further reading

  • 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.