Let's Go Local!

“So, I left a good job in the city, working for the man every night and day. Now I don’t lose a minute of sleep, worrying about the way things might have been."

Not long before I did though, I became eager to promote local businesses, instead of the corporate behemoths I talked about in my last blog. I’m not alone with these buying habits; in the last decade, local food has become extremely important to consumers.

Since there is no formal definition of the word local, I will use it to mean food that is grown and processed within 100 miles of their retail market. This includes retailers, restaurants, institutions, farmers market and community supported agriculture (CSA).

According to a National Grocery Association 2014 Consumer Panel (Page 15), over 87% of consumers regard the availability of locally grown produce as a very/somewhat important factor in their grocery shopping decision. They also identified that 73% of consumers make eating local foods a regular habit. To understand this recent trend, let’s look at two different publishings: A.T. Kearney, Buying into the Local Food Movement from 2013 and an article titled Ten Reasons to Buy Local Food, from the University of Vermont in 2010.

As noted by A.T. Kearney, 66% of shoppers believe that purchasing local food helps your local economy. This perception is supported with the University of Vermont’s article that states that “local food supports local families” and that “local food builds community.” Another reason noted by A.T. Kearney is that 60% of consumers believe it deliveries a broader and better assortment of products. This notion is also supported by the University of Vermont’s article, earning three of the ten available spots. They note that the top three reasons to buy local food is that “locally grown food tastes and looks better”, “local food is better for you” and that “local food preserves genetic diversity.”

Among the other social and economic reasons why consumers prefer local food, the fact is that consumers are willing to pay more for local food...

...and transition their discretionary dollars to the local food market. The USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture estimated that there were $7 Billion in local food sales for 2011. This is up from $4.8 Billion in sales from 2008. It’s no surprise then that the top two menu item trends for 2014 according to a chef survey through the National Restaurant Association (Page 14) are “locally sourced meats & seafood” and “locally grown produce” respectively.

When I joined the Fellowship last year and took one step closer to the food system, my own ideology around local food has evolved. I personally believe that supporting the local food system is more important than ever. Just like the majority of shoppers interviewed in the A.T. Kearney report, I believe that purchasing local food helps your local economy. When given directly to a farmer at a farmers market or through a CSA, not only will the farm earn more for their product, the money will stay in your region and contribute to their care of the land, instead of leaving your state and into the hands of a CEO.

When a farm adopts environmentally friendly methods, works to heal the land and gives extra care to their animals such as Polyface, then you’re doubling down on your dollars by keeping your money locally and supporting methods that are sustainable. This is the complete opposite practice of the industrial food system that supports Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that are not sustainable, create a larger carbon footprint and treat their animals very poorly.

I believe that when you support local food, you reduce your carbon footprint. You won’t be supporting a food system that requires more energy to operate (usually non-renewable) and functions on a greater distance of travel. Lastly, I believe that local food tastes better and is better for you. This is because local food is picked in its prime, when it’s the freshest, not having to worry about spoiling when shipped across the country.

Now that the fellowship has brought me one step closer in working with the local food system in my area, I’m able to understand how it works on a deeper level. I was fortunate enough that in my first week, I was able to work with Rooted in Appalachia in a pilot program to provide local food to health workers through a pop-up farmers market. With Rooted in Appalachia providing local food to restaurants in my region, I can now support local farmers and establishments when I go out to eat.

-Derrick Von Kundra