Supporting Local, Supporting Community

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Supporting Local, Supporting Community

All around our store, we emphasize to customers the value of supporting local farmers and food producers.  In fact, it’s not just emphasized — it’s a core value of the store’s philosophy and operations.  Placards are posted to highlight local producers whose goods we make available.  Customers learn how many miles a local producer operates from the store.  Also, the store routinely invites local vendors to sample their products, gives donations to various local charitable organizations and otherwise makes every effort to promote the value of supporting “community.” 

Sure. This is sound marketing for our type of natural food store. We want our customers to feel part of a community that supports and values healthy food choices. We believe many healthy food choices are found in our local community. Yet, the local food movement is not limited to community oriented natural food stores (like ours). Rather, it is a steady movement in a highly complex global food system dominated by massive industrial food processors and giant grocery store chains.  “Going Local” is a philosophy and a set of values worth further understanding.

For years, researchers have calculated how many miles that food has to travel before it gets to a consumer’s plate. Those studies typically estimate thousands of miles. The most frequent statistic is that food travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to consumer. That statistic comes from research, led by Rich Pirog of Iowa State University,  which studied the transportation miles involved with local, regional and conventional food distribution in Iowa.  That 2001 study can be found at http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/sites/default/files/pubs-and-papers/2011-06-food-fuel-and-freeways-iowa-perspective-how-far-food-travels-fuel-usage-and-greenhouse-gas-emissions.pdf

Essentially, there are certain key propositions to the philosophy of supporting locally produced food: (1) it supports the local economy, (2) it helps the environment in various way (reduced toxic emissions and reduced packaging waste to name a few), (3) local food producers typically use best practices for environmental stewardship, (4) local food is generally healthier because it is not processed and it is easy to know what you are buying by such close proximity to local farmers, and (5) there is a greater chance of local produce being available in low socio-economic communities (this is sometimes referred to as the “food justice” movement See http://www.ebony.com/news-views/activist-tanya-fields-on-race-class-and-the-food-justice-movement-406#axzz2edSOTozC ).  None of these propositions always hold true.  There are variables that can thwart any of these propositions.  For example, some climates will not support local produced food as well as others. Likewise, given the current relative small impact of the local food movement on the economy (see http://www.npr.org/2013/07/30/207048427/despite-the-buzz-local-food-has-a-small-economic-impact ) natural food consumers still heavily rely on non-local foods and products. Nonetheless, we believe the philosophy of the local food movement is the sound and the responsible approach to healthier living and a healthier planet. It is a worthy food policy.

Can the local food movement gain momentum and have a greater economic impact? Many observers believe the answer is “yes” if our federal food policies would support the local food movement in ways that it already supports large global factory farming and food processing. The Congress is still considering the re-enactment of the Farm Bill  through allocations of major taxpayer financed subsidies sets forth U.S. food policy.  The Congressional Research Service completed a nonpartisan study titled “The Role of Local Food Systems in U.S. Farm Policy” for Congress to use in its consideration of further supporting the local food movement.  That study can be found at http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42155.pdf

The local food movement is not without its harsh critics.  Economists like Steve Sexton argue that this movement unnecessarily drives up prices and creates inefficiencies in a world where there are serious food shortages. See http://freakonomics.com/2011/11/14/the-inefficiency-of-local-food/  (In fairness, Sexton does not factor in government subsidies which artificially support large agribusiness operations and public health costs —such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other ailments — resulting from major government support of grain crops over fruits and vegetables).  Likewise, a Canadian economist, Pierre Desrochers, is a frequent critic of the local food movement.  Desrochers characterizes the local food movement as a philosophy that “simply amounts to saying backward is the new forward.” See http://www.theatlanticcities.com/arts-and-lifestyle/2012/07/debating-local-food-movement/2435/  For another perspective, the pros and cons of the local food movement are discussed in a two articles by Sarah DeWeerdt of the Worldwatch Institute.  The first article asks if local food is better? See http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6064 Her second article asks if the economics of local food makes sense? See http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6161

So much can be analyzed and written about the local food movement. The articles cited provided plenty of information depending on your level of interest. Simply put, we believe that healthier food and lifestyle choices are better served by the philosophy of “going local” as much as we can.  That’s one reason why we emphasize community in our store.  The local food movement offers far greater tangible and intangible benefits than certain economic rationales will ever be able to recognize. We believe this philosophy makes us unique in what we offer to our customers and adds great value to their healthy lifestyle.

 

Kirk Schroder / Food Advocate / foodadvocate@ellwoodthompsons.com