Fresh & Local
Column #7, Published Nov 4th, 2011
There is currently a food revolution going on, and locally grown food is making permanent inroads into the food we eat.
A reader reminded me of something this week, and I decided this would be a good time to mention this. She called herself a “locavore”. Most people are probably unfamiliar with the word. Wikipedia defines a “locavore” as, “a person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market.” If locally grown food really is making permanent inroads into the food we eat, then it should not be too surprising that there is now a word for people who prefer locally grown food.
The word “locavore” would be meaningless without a definition for the word “local”. Wikipedia and some other references mention a 100-mile radius of their location as being “local.” As I mentioned in a previous column, the Culpeper Farmers’ Market uses a similar 75-mile radius as being their definition of “local.”
The Wikipedia article also mentioned, “The locavore movement is sometimes criticized as being idealistic or not actually achieving the environmental benefits its proponents claim.” I don’t think that is quite right. The problem is that the environmental benefits are very difficult to calculate.
Forbes magazine in 2009 ran an article titled, “The Locavore Myth: Why buying from nearby farmers won't save the planet.” The article cited a study that showed that transportation accounts for only 11% of food's carbon footprint. If this is true, then any transportation savings would be relatively modest in the overall scheme of things.
The article also used an example where a truck with 2,000 apples driven over 2,000 miles would consume the same amount of fuel per apple as a local farmer who takes a pickup 50 miles to sell 50 apples at his stall at a farmers’ market. “The critical measure here is not food miles but apples per gallon.”
Locally grown food does undoubtedly save some energy. It is hard, though, to accurately calculate how much that savings is. That is all fair enough. But there are lots of other benefits to being a locavore besides just transportation energy savings.
There is freshness. Locally grown food can go from field to fork in less than 24-hours.
There is quality. It is impossible to ship a fully vine-ripened heirloom variety tomato long distances. The best tomatoes are always local.
There is variety. In last week’s column, I mentioned pink banana squash as an example of produce that a supermarket is not going to carry. We grow unusual mesclun greens that you won’t find in a supermarket.
And there are concerns about sanitation. There is a long list of serious pathogen outbreaks in produce from huge mega-farms.
But what is a locavore to do during the winter? There are many cool-season and cold-season crops that will grow in this area all winter. The problem is that once the farmers’ markets close for the season, there is a shortage of other retail channels for locally grown food.
In my column last week, I pointed out that there are now year-around wholesale channels for locally grown food. The wholesalers have created a four-season market for local produce, so there are now local year-around growers. What are missing are retail channels during the winter when the farmers’ markets are closed. But don’t worry. I think it is a sure bet that will change soon, and it will be possible to be a locavore even in winter.
Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com