Benefits of local food economy questioned

Greensboro News and Record reporter Morgan Josey Glover in the article “Initiatives for local food have costs, too” writes that there are many questions about the benefits of a local food economy.

Glover raises several issues:

  • reduced fossil fuel use,
  • a richer and healthier food culture and
  • better economic security for farmers

I have to take issue with the reporter’s findings:

As to reduced fossil fuel use – walk into any supermarket and look at the labels showing where fruits and vegetables were grown and consider the miles it took to ship them vs the miles food traveled from area farmers to the local farmers market.

As to the richer and healthier food culture – consider the benefits of locally grown organic produce vs the kind of produce that is grown to be shipped and transported

As to better economic security for farmers, bigger is not necessarily better or more assuring of humane or environmentally friendly actions. Would you prefer to live next door to a small farm or CAFO?

The article missed the opportunity to note that the USDA has its 10th annual celebration of farmers markets this week.

On the other hand, it was nice to see a reference to the local food systems bill, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, the 400 people who took part in the “Farm to Fork” summit in May and the plans to publish a final state action plan by September.

You can find more background information here.

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2 responses to “Benefits of local food economy questioned

  1. Hello, this is the reporter who wrote the News & Record article that you questioned in your post. I wanted to address your point specifically about food miles. To be clear, I didn’t make any findings in the article. I only pointed out that unresolved questions exist. While local foods proponents frequently make the claim that locally grown foods require less diesel/gasoline fuel during the transport stage, not much research exists about the total life cycle fossil fuel requirements of globalized versus localized food systems.

    For example, what are the driving patterns of people who mostly shop at farmers markets versus those who don’t? Since I personally shop at a farmers market, I know that I am using more gasoline than I otherwise would because I still have to go to a grocery store to pick up things the farmers market don’t carry. So there are tradeoffs.

    Until that research is done it is only an assumption that locally grown foods consume less in fossil fuels AS A WHOLE than industrial agriculture.

    A good report that I didn’t have room to include in my articles was one done by a British group that has been a proponent of sustainable ag/local foods. You can find its report here: http://www.eafl.org.uk/localfood.asp

    A quote from the report: “One of the concerns that drove the local food agenda over the last decade – the notion of ‘food miles’ and the assumption that food transport is a major part of the environmental impact of the food system – is now in doubt. In fact, food transport has a relatively trivial environmental impact. This means that, if a preference for local food causes even a relatively small inefficiency elsewhere in the supply chain (for example by increasing waste), the overall impact on the environment can easily be negative.”

    • I appreciate your continued attempts to argue for ambiguity, but it still flies in the face of common sense when you measure the delivery of items such as the 2800 miles the seedless watermelon grown in Honduras must travel just to get from Timco Worldwide of Davis, California to a Raleigh, NC grocery (that doesn’t include the travel from Honduras to California) vs the 40 miles the seedless watermelon from Naylor’s Produce of Spivey’s Corner traveled to the State Farmers Market in Raleigh.

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