Local Foods Farm fresh and environmentally friendly G rocery shoppers by therza


									         Local Foods: Farm fresh                                                               Three generations of

         and environmentally friendly                                                          a farm family man-
                                                                                               age a produce stand
                                                                                               at a farmer’s market
                                                                                               near Independence,
                                                                                               Missouri. Markets

         G    rocery shoppers in the United
              States are used to buying straw-
         berries in January and asparagus in
                                                    area farms. According to the latest
                                                    U.S. Census of Agriculture, published
                                                    in 2002, at least 115,000 farms sold
                                                                                               such as these pro-
                                                                                               vide farmers with
                                                                                               additional income
         November, even if such produce is out      more than $800 million worth of local      while making fresh,
         of season in the area where they live.     food products.                             locally grown pro-
         Consumers routinely find fresh fruits,         In the early 1900’s, nearly 40 per-    duce and other
                                                                                               foods available to
         vegetables, and other food items deliv-    cent of Americans lived on farms, and
         ered from other areas of the country as    much of the food bought and con-
         well as other parts of the world. In       sumed in the United States was grown
         2008, however, some consumers were         locally. The United States shifted from
         taking a different approach. Instead of    local to national and global food
         buying whatever fruits and vegetables      sources after World War II (1939-
         they had a taste for, they chose local     1945). Technological innovations in
         food—that is, products grown and           agriculture and food transport, such as
         processed nearby. In 2007, the New         the use of pesticides (substances used
         Oxford American Dictionary chose a new     to kill harmful insects and other pests)
         name for such people—locavores—as          and refrigerated trucks, greatly in-
         its word of the year.                      creased the availability of foods grown
              Most food purchased by U.S. con-      and processed in other areas of the
         sumers originates on large farms that      United States or even other countries.
         are part of national and global food       Consumers not only enjoyed greater
         supply chains. In contrast, local foods    choices but also could purchase and
         are produced and sold close to where       consume food items that usually were
         the consumer lives. Local foods may in-    available locally only during certain
         clude dairy products, vegetables, fruit,   seasons (such as fresh strawberries or
         poultry, and meat. Consumers may           asparagus).
         buy local food directly from a farmer or       The current local food movement
         from a neighborhood store that pur-        in the United States began with the
         chases and distributes the food from       “back to the land” movement in the

Reproduced from World Book's 2009 Science Year @World Book Publishing 2009
On the Leopold Center web: wwww.leopold.iastate.edu/research/marketing_files/WorldBook.pdf
136 Consumer Science

                               late 1960’s. People who wanted a           ucts (unprocessed goods such as corn,
                               deeper connection with nature and the      wheat, rice, and soybeans) failed to
                               land left urban and suburban areas and     keep up with the rising costs of pro-
                               purchased rural land where they could      ducing these commodities. Profit mar-
                               live and grow their own food. Disillu-     gins      were    razor-thin.       Thus,
                               sion with the politics of the time and     small-farmers raising commodities had
                               growing concern about the environ-         three options—increase production,
                               ment—including the energy crisis of        get out of farming, or sell to special
                               1973—led many people to consider an        markets where they could command a
                               alternate lifestyle. Some of these new     higher percent of the food dollar
                               farmers started growing crops without      spent by consumers.
                               using synthetic fertilizers and pesti-           The local food movement gained
                               cides—the first stirrings of an organic    momentum as many farmers, espe-
                               food movement. Many of these farms         cially those within a short drive of ma-
                               relied on recycling the by-products of     jor metropolitan areas, realized that
                               the business—such as utilizing livestock   selling their crops and livestock prod-
                               manure as fertilizer—and hand or me-       ucts directly to local markets could in-
                               chanical weeding instead of pesticides     crease their income and so allow
                               to reach production goals. Farmers         them to remain in farming. From
                               sold their goods at farmers’ markets,      1997 to 2002, direct food sales from
                               natural food cooperatives, and other       farmers to consumers rose by 37 per-
                               specialty markets.                         cent, according to the 2002 Census of
                                    Although migration to rural areas     Agriculture. In addition, the number
                               was significant in the 1960’s, by the      of farmers’ markets jumped by 111
                               early 1990’s less than 2 percent of the    percent from 1994 to 2004, the U.S.
                               U.S. population lived on farms. Many       Department of Agriculture’s (USDA)
                               small and midsized farms struggled to      Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)
                               stay in business. According to the 2002    reported. According to the AMS,
                               U.S. Census of Agriculture, the number     there were more than 4,300 farmers’
                               of farms from 4 to 202 hectares (10 to     markets in the United States in 2006,
                               500 acres) had dropped by more than        a 7-percent increase over 2005. By
                               210,000 since 1974. The prices that        2008, local foods had become one of
                               farmers received for commodity prod-       the fastest-growing segments of the
                                                                          agricultural market.
                                                                                Locally grown foods in the United
                                                                          States were expected to jump from
   Outlets for local food                                                 about $4 billion in sales in 2002 to $5
   ■   farmers’ markets                                                   billion in 2007, according to Packaged
   ■   roadside farm stands                                               Facts, a market research publisher
   ■   independent local restaurants                                      based in Rockville, Maryland. Pack-
   ■   regional and local supermarkets that may offer locally
                                                                          aged Facts also estimated that locally
       grown foods as a competitive advantage over national               grown foods could turn into a $7-bil-
       chains                                                             lion business by 2011, with continued
   ■   institutions that serve food, such as colleges, hospitals, and
                                                                          growth of farmers’ markets. Restau-
       corporate cafeterias                                               rants were also adding more local
                                                                          products to their merchandise inven-
   ■   Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA)
                                                                          tory and menus.
   Online local food sources                                                    Two factors were driving the surge
   To find sources of local food near you, visit the following            in local food sales: an interest in know-
     Web sites:                                                           ing where food comes from and how
   www.localharvest.org.                                                  it is grown, and a desire to support lo-
   http://apps.ams.usda.gov/FarmersMarkets/                               cal farmers. Surveys show that con-
   http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/localfood_dir.php                      sumers like the taste, freshness, and
                                                                          quality of local foods. Numerous re-
                                                                          gional and national food retailers, such
                                                                          as Ball Foods in the Kansas City area,
                                                 Average food miles to reach markets in Iowa






      Sweet Corn





                      0                             500                         1000                 1500                2000

                                                                             Miles traveled

Source: Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University.

Hanaford’s in New England, Wegman’s                             for quick sale can be harvested nearer      Iowa State University
in the Middle Atlantic States, Hy-Vee in                        to the time when produce reaches its        has calculated food
the upper Midwest, and Whole Foods                              peak flavor and nutrient levels. Studies    miles—the average
(nationally), have developed programs                           have shown that tomatoes picked             number of miles that
to purchase more locally produced                                                                           foods travel to reach
                                                                green and ripened during transport
                                                                                                            markets—for fruits and
foods. Consumers also look for meats                            have less vitamin C than tomatoes
                                                                                                            vegetables sold in
and dairy foods produced without the                            picked ripe.                                Iowa. Their calcula-
use of antibiotics or hormones. Local                                Local foods travel shorter distances   tions show that on av-
foods with these characteristics supply                         to reach the consumer than foods sent       erage, produce from
some of this demand.                                            via national and global food supply         conventional sources
    But how local is “local”? Chefs, lo-                        chains. This shorter journey uses less      travels almost 1,500
cal-food advocates, and the public                              fuel and releases fewer greenhouse          miles before it is sold,
have begun to use the term food miles                           gases into the environment. A 2001          compared to only 56
as a measurement of the distance a                              study by the Leopold Center showed          food miles for local
food travels from where it is grown to                          that transporting produce to Iowa           produce. The graph
                                                                                                            shows food miles for
where it is sold and consumed. Accord-                          from across the United States used at
                                                                                                            10 popular produce
ing to research conducted by the                                least four times as much fuel and re-       items.
Leopold Center for Sustainable Agricul-                         leased four times as much greenhouse
ture at Iowa State University, in 2001                          gases as transporting local fresh pro-
and 2003, fresh produce traveled an                             duce to Iowa markets.
average of 2,414 kilometers (1,500                                   Another benefit of local foods is
miles) by truck from its various sources                        that they often include heirloom fruit
in the continental United States to the                         and vegetable varieties. Heirloom
upper Midwest.                                                  fruits and vegetables are plants whose
    Buying local foods offers many                              seed or rootstock has survived for sev-
benefits. The most obvious is the                               eral generations. Local foods also of-
foods’ flavor and freshness, which                              ten include unusual breeds of
greatly appeal to consumers. This is es-                        livestock. The production and sale of
pecially true for many fruits and veg-                          these livestock breeds and heirloom
etables, because local produce grown                            varieties preserve the genetic diversity
138 Consumer Science

                           of plants and animals. Diversity is im-       transport as conventional varieties,
                           portant because each crop variety and         which are picked unripe and then
                           livestock breed has its own unique re-        ripened during transport.
                           sistance to various diseases, pests, and          Many consumers also have reser-
                           environmental stresses. Lack of diversi-      vations about the safety of the current
                           ty increases the risk of significant crop     food system, because of such prob-
                           and livestock losses due to disease or        lems as the contamination of pet
                           insect pests. Local heirloom fruits and       foods with melamine (a plastic com-
                           vegetables are rarely carried by large-       pound) and fresh spinach with E. coli
                           scale food retailers because these pro-       (a bacteria), as well as regional and
                           duce items are usually picked when            national recalls of contaminated
                           ripe and do not hold up as well under         ground beef in 2007. Local foods are
                           additional handling and long-distance         easily traced to their original producer,

                                                Community-Supported Agriculture
                                                An important market for local foods is community-supported
                                                agriculture (CSA). CSA is a special partnership between farm-
                                                ers and consumers who agree to purchase locally grown foods
Joan Norman (left) fills                        delivered by the farmer on a regular basis. CSA offers a guar-
a customer’s bag with                           anteed market to farmers, who often receive part of the pay-
produce from One                                ment from the consumer at the beginning of the growing
Small Farm, at the Bor-                         season. For consumers, CSA offers an opportunity to have lo-
dy Vinyards farmer’s                            cally grown foods delivered to their home or a nearby distri-
market in Hydes, Mary-                          bution point. Since the first CSA was formed in 1986, more
land. One Small Farm                            than 1,300 CSA enterprises have begun operating in the Unit-
is part of Maryland’s                           ed States, according to the Robyn Van En Center at Wilson
Community-Supported                             College in Pennsylvania, a national resource and outreach cen-
Agriculture program.                            ter for CSA farms.
                                                                                         Consumer Science 139

providing an important degree of                  Another benefit of local foods is
transparency to the consumer. One of         that they connect consumers to farms
the reasons for the transparency is that     and rural communities. Farmers’ mar-
local foods are produced, processed,         kets and community-supported agri-
and sold in small quantities in the Unit-    culture organizations (CSA’s) sell foods
ed States. Researchers at Cornell Uni-       in a personal, interactive environment.
versity in New York estimate that only       Local food customers may go to the
1.6 percent of all fresh produce in the      farms for tours and field days or to
country is sold through direct markets.      help harvest crops, such as berries and
    In sharp contrast, under the na-         apples, at “U-pick” farm businesses.
tional and global food system, foods              Finally, local foods may actually
are produced on large farms, pro-            cost the consumer less to purchase
cessed in large facilities, and shipped      than foods that have been distributed
to numerous stores throughout the            through the typical food chain. The
country. The U.S. food marketing sys-        cost to consumers varies among com-
tem had more than 32,500 whole-              munities, however.
salers; 112,600 food and beverage                 There are disadvantages to local
retailers; and 377,000 food service          foods beyond more limited choices.
companies for distributing food to           For example, mass food production,
more than 111 million households, ac-        processing, distribution, and sales use
cording to the U.S. Census Bureau and        a great deal of fossil fuel and create
the National Agricultural Statistics Ser-    emissions of such gases as carbon
vice. Thus, a single incident of micro-      dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.
bial or other contamination in the           These so-called greenhouse gases can
national or global system is likely to af-   heat Earth’s atmosphere, contributing
fect more people than a single incident      to climate change. However, local
in a local food system. Reports from the     foods do not always generate lower
U.S. Congressional Research Service          greenhouse gas emissions than their
and Government Accounting Office re-         national and global food counterparts.
leased in 2003 and 2004 stated that          A 1998 study showed that growing
the concentration of food production         tomatoes in hothouses in Sweden for
and processing in a few large opera-         local consumption created more
tions makes the United States more vul-      greenhouse gas emissions than toma-
nerable to agroterrorism (the use of a       toes grown in open fields in Spain and
biological agent to damage a nation’s        shipped to Sweden. Higher local food
agriculture and food supply). A virus or     consumption in such developed na-
other pathogen deliberately introduced       tions as the United States may also
into the food supply would have a less-      have a negative impact on the
er impact if food distribution were dis-     economies of poorer, less developed
persed throughout the country.               nations that rely heavily on sales from
    Buying local food from nearby            food exports.
farmers rather than food from far away            Ensuring a sufficient and accessible
also helps local economies. This is be-      supply of local foods is also a major
cause more of the food dollar stays in       concern. Many locavores want the
the local community, where the farm-         ease and convenience of buying local
ers buy additional supplies for their        foods at area supermarkets. However,
farms and other goods and services           the local farming community may not
from local businesses. A 2006 study          be large or productive enough to ade-
conducted by Michigan State Universi-        quately supply these mainstream mar-
ty and the Michigan Land Use Institute       kets. Despite these disadvantages,
estimated that nearly 1,900 new jobs         most farm experts agree that the pop-
would be created in Michigan’s econo-        ularity of local food will probably grow
my if Michigan farmers were to sell          if local growers continue to provide
two to three times more fresh produce        the freshness, taste, and quality that
into direct and wholesale markets such       consumers demand.
as farmers’ markets.                                                   ■ Richard Pirog

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