The Farm-to-Table and locavore movements have rapidly gained momentum and popularity in recent years, as more American families strive to purchase all or most of their food locally from small local growers and Farmers’ Markets.
Interest in urban and residential gardening has also exploded across the United States. Eating food that is produced and grown in backyard gardens or from local growers is fresher, healthier and benefits the environment and local economy.
Less energy is required for shipping, handling and packaging when producing locally grown foods, and since local growers are relatively small producers, their food contains fewer if any chemicals and artificial preservatives.
While food from local growers may contain fewer chemicals and pesticides, not all food grown locally is organic, which must meet specific guidelines.
Local Food Sales Skyrocket
A November 2011 U.S. Department of Agriculture report indicates sales of local foods sold direct to consumers and/or Farmers’ Markets, grocers or restaurants, amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008, a figure several times greater than earlier estimates. And the USDA predicts locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales this year.
The USDA report included sales to local grocers and restaurants, as well as sales directly to consumers through Farmers’ Markets, and roadside stands.
In the last 20 years, local farm sales have almost doubled from about $650 million in the early 1990s to about $1.2 billion currently. The $4.8 billion figure takes into account sales to local restaurants, retailers and regional food distributors.
“Think of it as expanding what the picture looks like,” said Stephen Vogel, who helped do the study for the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service. “What this report does is say, ‘Look, this market is bigger than you thought.’”
Forty percent of locally grown vegetables, fruits and nuts are sold in local and regional markets, compared to only 5 percent from large U.S. farms.
According to the USDA, the number of farms selling directly to consumers has grown from roughly 86,000 in the early 1990s to about 136,000 now. And the number of Farmers’ Markets has nearly doubled, from 2,756 in 1998 to 5,274 in 2009.
Paul Gnaedinger, an organic farmer in Illinois says the growth in local food sales is a result of heightened awareness among consumers who have become more savvy in their purchases, and cognizant that shorter shipping distances lower the carbon footprint and the chances of contamination in transport.
“I don’t want to say they’re not trusting of other food sources,” said Gnaedinger, 53. “They do tell me they don’t want to buy something in Colorado one day, then see it shipped to California before it’s shipped here. There’s real demand in the market for people wanting to know where their food is coming from, that it’s going through local channels.”
Beyond The Corporate Food System
A group of locavores that organized in the California Bay Area have created a website and explain why they buy locally grown food:
“Our food now travels an average of 1,500 miles before ending up on our plates. This globalization of the food supply has serious consequences for the environment, our health, our communities and our tastebuds.
“Much of the food grown in the breadbasket surrounding us must be shipped across the country to distribution centers before it makes its way back to our supermarket shelves. Because uncounted costs of this long distance journey (air pollution and global warming, the ecological costs of large scale monoculture, the loss of family farms and local community dollars) are not paid for at the checkout counter, many of us do not think about them at all.”
This Bay Area group realizes biotech corporations and huge factory farms benefit the most from a global food system that exclusively controls the production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food.
As this group of insightful locavores points out, local growers and consumers both recognize the potential and advantage of locally grown and sustainably produced food.
Many people are increasingly becoming linked through community supported agriculture and Farmers’ Markets, forming an alternative food community beyond the reach of a corporate controlled and monopolized food system that supplies foods impregnated with genetically engineered crops and harmful chemicals.