What is Local Food? Part II

Written by  Colleen Leonardi
Edible Columbus

When we asked the question—What is Local Food?—a few weeks ago to our friends and colleagues in our community, we received thoughtful, compelling responses. The question emerged in celebration of Local Foods Week. But as we said—every week is local foods week.

So in honor of the additional responses we received but were not able to share at the time of our post, we wanted to share them with you now. Lauren Ketcham from Ohio Ecological Food & Farming Association, Victoria Taylor from Snowville Creamery and Matt Ewer from Green B.E.A.N. Delivery, all share their thoughts on local food.

We hope you enjoying their ideas as much as we do. What is Local Food to you?

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“There’s no standard definition of a “local” food system; instead, it’s a nuanced continuum, which can be measured less in miles than by the results it achieves.

The biggest advantage to buying locally is that it helps create a sense of community and establishes regional food systems which keep money in the community, protect farmland, create local jobs, and support alternative, innovative farming systems. Supporting local farmers also helps consumers get to know who raises their food, enabling them to better understand food production. This relationship also helps keep farmers tuned into the needs of their customers.

Freshness and variety is another aspect of local. When you buy food grown locally that is fresh, flavors will be at their peak. But, for fruits and vegetables, buying locally grown food may also help preserve crop biodiversity. The produce we get through conventional channels are chosen because they ship well and have a relatively long shelf life. In contrast, farmers who sell their products locally have the freedom to choose varieties because they taste good. That’s one reason why, when you go to the farmers market, you can see a mind-blowing variety of tomatoes and other produce!Local doesn’t necessarily mean sustainable, however. Method of production is critical. You could purchase sweet corn grown within 5 miles of your house, but if it was grown using GE seed and Roundup, while you may be strengthening your local economy, you’re do so at the expense of the environment and the health of the soil.

Surprisingly, transporting food accounts for comparatively little of the energy used in our food system. Production practices, specifically the use of chemical inputs, dwarfs the impacts of transportation distance. So, for consumers concerned about the environmental impacts of their food choices, it is important to consider not just shipping distance, but the method of production as well.”

~~Lauren Ketcham, Ohio Ecological Food & Farming Association

“My own very personal opinion regarding the definition of “local” when it comes to a food product depends on the product itself. Some products travel better than others. In general, we try to support Ohio grown, produced and manufactured products. After that, made in the USA is preferred to imported products.

I understand the need to define the term, and I frankly resent companies that are not even regional calling themselves local. I have heard someone (Joel Salatin, maybe?) describe “local” as any place that can be reached with a round trip in one day. This is how we justify having our milk in the DC area. If we used the 100-mile radius criteria, we would barely make it to Columbus; Cincinnati and Cleveland would be out of bounds.

There are many products that we use which can not be produced locally or even regionally: coffee, cocoa, tea, quinoa, and oranges, to name but a few. Having said that, I do try to get products that were produced closest to home or produced under the most ethical conditions.

Here in the Athens area we are blessed with a wonderful year round Farmers’ Market. Most of our food bill is spent there on fresh local fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese and eggs. The quality and variety of vegetables and seasonal fruits compete with the selection at any grocery store. Our Farmers’ Market even has a coffee roaster from the next county who sources her coffee beans only from ethical producers, Lorraine Walker of Silver Bridge Coffee Co. We also have the Tea Lady, Maureen Burns-Hooker from Herbal Sage Tea Co. who makes a variety of exceptional tea blends. There are now growers of staple crops, Shagbark Seed and Mill Co., who are growing corn, spelt and beans. Both Laurel Valley Creamery and Integration Acres make wonderful cheeses, and thanks to Shade Winery we only have to pop over a few hills to get a really decent bottle of wine. Needless to say, we get our milk even closer to home.

I have been a “health nut” all of my adult life but had never found such high quality raw ingredients until we moved here. Who could have known that living in Appalachia would allow us to eat like kings?

So, I guess I would have to say that a round trip in one day is local; one way in one day is regional.

How fast do you drive?”

~~Victoria Taylor, Snowville Creamery

“Local food is a study in community and all the elements involved in community. It’s a study in local economy, land stewardship, education, nutrition, health, and fun. It’s not a new phenomenon although it did fall off of the landscape for quite some time in our urban communities. Local agriculture is back at the forefront of American culture. It doesn’t need to be complex or cute. It needs to effective and serve its purpose of feeding our community highly nutritious and healthy food. It’s an American tradition and should simply be supported and celebrated. . The idea is to help our urban communities live healthier lifestyles while adding to the vitality of our rural farmers and urban artisans.”

~~Matt Ewer Owner, Green B.E.A.N. Delivery