Local food

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The Marylebone farmers' market in London, United Kingdom. Marylebone Farmers Market 2005.jpg
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. WheatYield.png
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 USA, 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. 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!" Goats and cheesemaking workshop, Maker Faire 2011.jpg
A cheesemaking workshop with goats at Maker Faire 2011. The sign declares, "Eat your Zipcode!"

No single definition of 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). [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

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

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 food shed. Similar to watersheds, food sheds follow the process of where food comes from and where it ends up. [8]

Contemporary local food markets

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. [9]

Websites now exist that aim to connect people to local food growers. [10] 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. [11] Other chains, like Wegman's (a 71-store chain across the northeast), have long cooperated with the local food movement. [11] 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. [12]

Local food campaigns

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. [13]

Vegetables Ecologically grown vegetables.jpg

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. [14] [15] 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. [16]

In 2017, a campaign was started in Virginia by the Common Grains Alliance mirroring many of the efforts of the North Carolina campaign. [17]

Motivations for eating local

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. [18] 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. [19] 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. [20] 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] [21]


Local foods require less energy to store and transport, possibly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. [22]


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. [20]


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." [23] 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 decrease the number of gasses emitted. [24] 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. [25]

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’". [26]

Environmental impact

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". [27] 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. [28] 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

While locavorism has been promoted as a feasible alternative to modern food production, some believe it might negatively affect the efficiency of production. [29] 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. [29]

See also

Related Research Articles

Organic farming Method of agriculture meant to be environmentally friendly

Organic farming is an agricultural system which originated early in the 20th century in reaction to rapidly changing farming practices. Certified organic agriculture accounts for 70 million hectares globally, with over half of that total in Australia. Organic farming continues to be developed by various organizations today. It is defined by the use of fertilizers of organic origin such as compost manure, green manure, and bone meal and places emphasis on techniques such as crop rotation and companion planting. Biological pest control, mixed cropping and the fostering of insect predators are encouraged. Organic standards are designed to allow the use of naturally occurring substances while prohibiting or strictly limiting synthetic substances. For instance, naturally occurring pesticides such as pyrethrin and rotenone are permitted, while synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are generally prohibited. Synthetic substances that are allowed include, for example, copper sulfate, elemental sulfur and Ivermectin. Genetically modified organisms, nanomaterials, human sewage sludge, plant growth regulators, hormones, and antibiotic use in livestock husbandry are prohibited. Organic farming advocates claim advantages in sustainability, openness, self-sufficiency, autonomy/independence, health, food security, and food safety.

Sustainable living describes a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual's or society's use of the Earth's natural resources, and one's personal resources. It is often called as "earth harmony living" or "net zero living". Its practitioners often attempt to reduce their ecological footprint by altering their methods of transportation, energy consumption, and/or diet. Its proponents aim to conduct their lives in ways that are consistent with sustainability, naturally balanced, and respectful of humanity's symbiotic relationship with the Earth's natural ecology. The practice and general philosophy of ecological living closely follows the overall principles of sustainable development.

Local purchasing is a preference to buy locally-produced goods and services rather than those produced farther away. It is very often abbreviated as a positive goal, "buy local" or "buy locally', that parallels the phrase "think globally, act locally", common in green politics.

Farmers market Market featuring foods sold directly by farmers to consumers

A farmers' market is a physical retail marketplace intended to sell foods directly by farmers to consumers. Farmers' markets may be indoors or outdoors and typically consist of booths, tables or stands where farmers sell their homegrown produce, live animals and plants, and sometimes prepared foods and beverages. Farmers' markets exist in many countries worldwide and reflect the local culture and economy. The size of the market may be just a few stalls or it may be as large as several city blocks. Due to their nature, they tend to be less rigidly regulated than retail produce shops.

Urban agriculture The practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in or around urban areas

Urban agriculture,urban farming, or urban gardening is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around urban areas. Urban agriculture can also involve animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry, urban beekeeping, and horticulture. These activities occur in peri-urban areas as well, and peri-urban agriculture may have different characteristics.

Agribusiness Agriculture-related industry

Agribusiness is the business of agricultural production which involves the production, protection, sales and marketing of the product to satisfy the customers need. The term is a portmanteau of agriculture and business and was coined in 1957 by John Davis and Ray Goldberg. It includes agrichemicals, breeding, crop production, distribution, farm machinery, processing, and seed supply, as well as marketing and retail sales. All agents of the food and fiber value chain and those institutions that influence it are part of the agribusiness system.

Food industry Collective of diverse businesses that supplies much of the worlds food

The food industry is a complex, global collective of diverse businesses that supplies most of the food consumed by the world's population. The term food industries covers a series of industrial activities directed at the processing, conversion, preparation, preservation and packaging of foodstuffs. The food industry today has become highly diversified, with manufacturing ranging from small, traditional, family-run activities that are highly labor intensive, to large, capital-intensive and highly mechanized industrial processes. Many food industries depend almost entirely on local agriculture or fishing.

Food miles Distance food is transported from production to consumption

Food miles is the distance food is transported from the time of its making until it reaches the consumer. Food miles are one factor used when testing the environmental impact of food, such as the carbon footprint of the food.

Environmental vegetarianism practice of vegetarianism when motivated by the desire to not contribute to the negative environmental impact of meat production

Environmental vegetarianism is the practice of vegetarianism when motivated by the desire to create a sustainable diet that avoids the negative environmental impact of meat production. Livestock as a whole is estimated to be responsible for around 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, significant reduction in meat consumption has been advocated by, among others, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their 2019 special report and as part of the 2017 World Scientists' Warning to Humanity.

Civic Agriculture is the trend towards locally based agriculture and food production that is tightly linked to a community's social and economic development. It is also connected to the citizenship and environmentalism within a community. Civic agriculture is geared towards meeting consumer demands in addition to boosting the local economy in the process through jobs, farm to food production efforts, and community sustainability. The term was first coined by Thomas Lyson, professor of Sociology at Cornell, to represent an alternative means of sustainability for rural agricultural communities in the era of industrialized agriculture. Civic agriculture is geared towards fostering a self sustainable local economy through an integral community structure in which the entire community is in some part responsible for their food production. Civic agriculture can provide a variety of benefits to a community such as cleaner water, fresher foods, and a better connection between farmers and the community. However, there are also critiques that are concerned with the way in which civic agriculture promotes community responsibility and possibly creates a false sense of citizenship. The intent of civic agricultural practices is to move away from the industrialized sector and into a localized community effort.

A sustainable food system is a type of food system that provides healthy food to people while also providing sustainable impacts on both environmental, economic and social systems that surround food.

<i>Livestocks Long Shadow</i> United Nations report

Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options is a United Nations report, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on 29 November 2006, that "aims to assess the full impact of the livestock sector on environmental problems, along with potential technical and policy approaches to mitigation". It stated that livestock accounts for 18% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, a figure which FAO changed to 14.5% in its 2013 study Tackling climate change through livestock.

Jessica Prentice is a chef, author, and founding member of Three Stone Hearth, a community-supported kitchen in Berkeley, California. She is known for coining the word locavore, which is a movement in which people seek to eat locally grown foods, often defined as those available within a 100-mile radius.

A low-carbon diet refers to making lifestyle choices related to food consumption to reduce resulting greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe). Choosing a low carbon diet is one facet of developing sustainable diets which increase the long-term sustainability of humanity.

The term food system is used frequently in discussions about nutrition, food, health, community economic development and agriculture. A food system includes all processes and infrastructure involved in feeding a population: growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption, and disposal of food and food-related items. It also includes the inputs needed and outputs generated at each of these steps. A food system operates within and is influenced by social, political, economic, and environmental contexts. It also requires human resources that provide labor, research and education. Food systems are either conventional or alternative according to their model of food lifespan from origin to plate.

Environmental impact of agriculture agricultures impact on the environment.

The environmental impact of agriculture is the effect that different farming practices have on the ecosystems around them, and how those effects can be traced back to those practices. The environmental impact of agriculture varies based on the wide variety of agricultural practices employed around the world. Ultimately, the environmental impact depends on the production practices of the system used by farmers. The connection between emissions into the environment and the farming system is indirect, as it also depends on other climate variables such as rainfall and temperature. Some other factors can include types of machinery used for agriculture purposes as well as the farmer's choice of how they handle their livestock.


Farm-to-table is a social movement which promotes serving local food at restaurants and school cafeterias, preferably through direct acquisition from the producer. This might be accomplished by a direct sales relationship, a community-supported agriculture arrangement, a farmer's market, a local distributor or by the restaurant or school raising its own food. Farm-to-table often incorporates a form of food traceability where the origin of the food is identified to consumers. Often restaurants cannot source all the food they need for dishes locally, so only some dishes or only some ingredients are labelled as local.

A foodshed is the geographic region that produces the food for a particular population. The term is used to describe a region of food flows, from the area where it is produced, to the place where it is consumed, including: the land it grows on, the route it travels, the markets it passes through, and the tables it ends up on. "Foodshed" is described as a "socio-geographic space: human activity embedded in the natural integument of a particular place." A foodshed is analogous to a watershed in that foodsheds outline the flow of food feeding a particular population, whereas watersheds outline the flow of water draining to a particular location. Through drawing from the conceptual ideas of the watershed, foodsheds are perceived as hybrid social and natural constructs.

Short food supply chain (SFSCs) is a broad range of food production-distribution-consumption configurations, such as farmers' markets, farm shops, collective farmers' shops, community-supported agriculture, solidarity purchase groups. More in general, a food supply chain can be defined as "short" when it is characterized by short distance or few intermediaries between producers and consumers.

<i>Cowspiracy</i> 2014 documentary film exploring the impact of animal agriculture on the environment.

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a 2014 documentary film which explores the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, and investigates the policies of a few environmental organizations on this issue. The film looks at various environmental concerns, including global warming, water use, deforestation, and ocean dead zones, and suggests that animal agriculture is the primary source of environmental destruction.


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Further reading