'Locavorism on the Rise Everywhere': US Consumers Turn to Smaller, Local Farms

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Common Dreams

'Locavorism on the Rise Everywhere': US Consumers Turn to Smaller, Local Farms

New index ranks states using government agricultural and population data

by
Common Dreams staff

Workers harvest fresh greens for Good Eats CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) on Monday, May 7, 2012 in Craftsbury, Vt. Local food is big in Vermont, which ranks as the top state in a new Locavore Index, based on the number of farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture farms where customers pay ahead for produce and other foods throughout the season. (Toby Talbot | AP)

Community-supported agriculture projects, farmers markets, and other 'local food' systems are on the rise nationwide, according to a first of its kind index based on US government data. And supporting this 'locavore' movement is a growing army of consumers who recognize the connection between their food choices and the impact they have on communities, the environment, and their own health.

Using data exclusively from government sources (principally USDA and US Census) dating from 2010 and 2011, the Locavore Index measures the commitment of states to locally-sourced foods by measuring the per-capita presence of Community-Supported Agricultural enterprises and Farmers Markets, each of which is an indication of both the availability and demand for locally-produced food. According to Strolling with the Heifers, the Vermont-based group that assembled the index, local foods are more sustainable, healthier, better for the environment and economically positive than foods sourced from large-scale, globalized food systems.

Locavorism is about "creating an oasis... in the context of a globalized food system that's completely anonymous." --Jessica Prentice

The top five states for locavorism, according to the Index, in order, are Vermont (No. 1), Iowa, Montana, Maine and Hawaii, while the bottom five are Florida (No. 50), Arizona, New Jersey, Nevada and Louisiana. But, says Orly Munzing, founder and executive director of Strolling of the Heifers, “Locavorism is on the rise everywhere, so there’s no stigma in being closer to the bottom of the list. Our research shows that CSAs and Farmers Markets, as well as Farm-to-Plate programs, which bring local foods into schools and other institutional food systems, are becoming more numerous every day in every state.”

Vermont has 99 farmers markets and 164 CSAs, with a population of fewer than 622,000, according to the index, whereas Florida, which produces much of the nation's citrus, strawberries and tomatoes, was in the bottom five with only 146 farmers markets and 193 CSAs for 18.5 million people.

Roger Allbee, former Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, said, “Vermont’s position at the top of the Index shows the strength of Vermont’s commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship in local agriculture. We’ve been a leader in that area for generation.”

Jessica Prentice, a San Francisco Bay-area chef who coined the term locavore, spoke to the Associated Press about the locavore movement and said it was about more than 'food miles' and healthy eating. "Really what it's about is moving into a kind of food system where you're connected to the source of your food. You're buying from people that you know or can meet and you're buying food grown in a place that you can easily drive to and see."

"This is more about creating an oasis really in the context of a globalized food system that's completely anonymous," she said.

"The whole purpose of this is really to stimulate the conversation about locavorism, which fits into the mission of Strolling of the Heifers," said Martin Cohn, a spokesman for the group, which works to save farms in New England.

See below for a full listing of the 50 states as ranked by the Locavore Index. Click here for a PDF chart including the underlying data and sources used to develop the Index.

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Strolling of the Heifers: 'Locavorism is on the rise everywhere!'

The Strolling of the Heifers announces the Locavore Index: an indicator of how states compare in their commitment to raising and eating locally grown food. In the 2012 Locavore Index, Vermont ranks first among the fifty states. (See Associated Press news story about the Index.)

Using data exclusively from government sources (principally USDA and US Census data) dating from 2010 and 2011, the Locavore Index measures the commitment of states to locally-sourced foods by measuring the per-capita presence of Community-Supported Agricultural enterprises and Farmers Markets, each of which is an indication of both the availability and demand for locally-produced food.

CSAs are a cooperative agreement between farmers and consumers; consumer buy shares in the farm's output and have some say in what is grown. When crops come in, they are divided among shareholders according to the volume of their shares, and the rest may be sold at market. CSA farmers get revenue in advance to cover costs of tilling, soil preparation and seed. Shareholders get fresh produce grown locally and contribute to sustainable farming practices.

Farmers Markets are generally cooperative efforts to market locally produced food in a central location where consumers can select and purchase food from multiple farm enterprises.

The Index incorporates both CSAs and Farmers Markets in its per-capita, 50-state comparison of consumers’ interest in eating locally-sourced foods — also known as locavorism. [...]

The term “locavore,” and the locavorism movement, are both comparatively recent. “Locavore” made its first appearance in 2005 and was designated the 2007 Word of the Year by the Oxford American Dictionary. As a movement, locavorism advocates a preference for local food for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Local food travels much less distance to market than typical fresh or processed grocery store foods, therefore using less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gases.
  • Local food is fresher, and therefore healthier, spending less time in transit from farm to plate, and therefore losing fewer nutrients and incurring less spoilage.
  • Local food encourages diversification of local agriculture, which reduces the reliance on monoculture — single crops grown over a wide area to the detriment of soils.
  • Local food encourages the consumption of organic foods and reduces reliance on artificial fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Local foods create local jobs by supporting family farms and the development of local food processing and distribution systems.
  • Local foods create more vibrant communities by connecting people with the farmers and food producers who bring them healthy local foods.

In short, local foods are more sustainable, healthier, better for the environment and economically positive than foods sourced from large-scale, globalized food systems.

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Associated Press: 'Tracking the Locavores'

A committed “locavore,” Robin McDermott once struggled to stock her kitchen with food grown within 100 miles of her Vermont home. She once drove 70 miles to buy beans and ordered a bulk shipment of oats from the neighboring Canadian province of Quebec.

Six years later, she doesn’t travel far: She can buy chickens at the farmers market, local farms grow a wider range of produce, and her grocery store stocks meat, cheese and even flour produced in the area. A bakery in a nearby town sells bread made from Vermont grains, and she’s found a place to buy locally made sunflower oil.

Nationwide, small farms, farmers markets and specialty food makers are popping up and thriving as more people seek locally produced foods. More than half of consumers now say it’s more important to buy local than organic, according to market research firm Mintel, and Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan called the local food movement “the biggest retail food trend in my adult lifetime.”

But with no official definition for what makes a food local, the government can’t track sales. And consumers don’t always know what they are buying. A supermarket tomato labeled “local” may have come from 10, 100 or more miles away.

Strict locavores stick to food raised within a certain radius of their home — 50, 100 or 250 miles. Others may allow themselves dried spices, coffee or chocolate.

“I don’t treat it as a religion,” said Valerie Taylor, of Montgomery, Ohio, who tries to eat locally when she can but won’t go without a salad in the winter or an avocado if she wants it. She estimated 95 percent of the meat and 70 percent of the produce she eats is local in the summer, but not in the winter.

McDermott has eased up after eating locally during a Vermont winter, which meant a lot of meat and root vegetables. She now allows herself olive oil and citrus and in winter, greens.

“In 2006, I felt like a Vermonter of years past,” she said. “You know, I was going down into my root cellar and saying, ‘I guess it will be potatoes again.’”

Two of the more common standards used by locavores are food produced within 100 miles or within the same state that it’s consumed. A new locavore index ranked Vermont as the top state in its commitment to raising and eating locally grown food based on the number of farmers markets and community supported agriculture farms, where customers pay a lump sum up front and receive weekly deliveries of produce and other foods.

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The 2012 Locavore Index ranking of states (Click here for a PDF chart including the underlying data and sources used to develop the Index):

1. Vermont
2. Iowa
3. Montana
4. Maine
5. Hawaii
6. Kentucky
7. North Dakota
8. South Dakota
9. Wyoming
10. Idaho
11. West Virginia
12. Nebraska
13. New Hampshire
14. Oregon
15. Wisconsin
16. New Mexico
17. Minnesota
18. Missouri
19. Kansas
20. Oklahoma
21. Arkansas
22. Washington
23. Mississippi
24. Rhode Island
25. Michigan
26. Alabama
27. Alaska
28. Massachusetts
29. Connecticut
30. Indiana
31. Colorado
32. North Carolina
33. South Carolina
34. Virginia
35. Ohio
36. Tennessee
37. Utah
38. Pennsylvania
39. Maryland
40. Illinois
41. California
42. New York
43. Texas
44. Georgia
45. Delaware
46. Louisiana
47. Nevada
48. New Jersey
49. Arizona
50. Florida
 

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