Supporting Local Foods Has Many Benefits
Through our grant program, Ag Ventures Alliance has been supporting local foods initiatives in Iowa and Southern Minnesota for several years. For our part, it is good business but it also has many community and economic development benefits, as well. The definition of “local foods” is somewhat. Different customers for local foods, such as grocery stores or school systems define it differently one may say it must be within 200 miles while another may say 500 miles. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 includes a definition, with "locally" and "regionally" grouped together and defined as:
‘‘(I) the locality or region in which the final product is marketed, so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product; or
‘‘(II) the State in which the product is produced.” H.R. 2419
Whatever the definition, it supports the growing of crops in a sustainable manner, provides a higher value crop than the commodity grains that may generally be grown in an area and it keeps dollars in the community or region.
There are other benefits, as well. As farms increase in size and equipment becomes more expensive, traditional farming is, in many ways out of the reach of those that are not part of a generational family farm. Growing fruits and vegetables, while extremely labor intensive, is a way to get into farming on a small scale. It seems that a higher number of these small-scale farmers to be women or minorities than the larger scale operations, as well. At least that has been my experience.
The more traditional grain and livestock farmers are also beginning to plant a relatively small amount of an alternative crop to sell locally to supplement their income. This seems to be especially true of young farmers just getting started on their own.
Thus far I have discussed how local foods benefit the farmer or the economy but let’s change gears and discuss what it does for the consumer and the community. Local foods provide a connection between the grower and the consumer, which can provide greater assurance that the food a family eats is fresh and healthy. It provides areas that are great distances from tradition fruit and vegetable growing areas, like Iowa, with fresher healthier alternatives. It can provide those at the lowest levels of income a source of healthy foods through donations to food banks and homeless shelters. Finally, it can provide a social benefit by getting people together at their local farmers market each week to buy locally produced products, while socializing with vendors and other customers that have come to shop and be entertained.
I’m sure there are many other benefits to promoting and supporting local foods initiatives but those listed here are certainly reason enough for all of us to get behind the local foods group in our area or region. If you can name others let us know by replying to this blog.
Written by Jude Conway, Executive Director