Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Local - What does it mean, exactly?

You all know how I feel about certain terms -- "baby" vegetables come to mind.  Another bugaboo is the loosey-goosey use of "local".  As soon as one of these terms gets hot, everyone and their Uncle Vanya is using it to describe their merchandise or produce.  According to the WSJ, Wal-Mart has jumped on the local bandwagon as well.   As soon as I read that, I thought, "oh-oh, local is going the way of organic."  Wal-Mart, it seems, is embracing local food for two reasons - they save on fossil fuel costs by limiting their shipping distances, and they are opening the door of a large new market with deep pockets.  This can be both good and bad for local farmers across the country.  Slipping under the sheets with Wal-Mart can be a double-edged sword.   As far as the new "local" fanaticsm, my personal feeling is that a lot of the local food embracers fall right off the wagon as soon as they realize that "local" means they can't get blueberries in January.  But, I digress.

Also discussed in the article was what "local" means to three food retailers who are also on the "local" bandwagon:

Safeway says it doesn't consider food locally grown if it takes more than an 8 hour drive from field to store.

Kroger defines locally grown very loosely.  It can mean grown in the same state, or within the same "region" of the country.

Supervalu varies from store to store.  Some of their stores call produce that comes from neighboring states "local".

I have a much tighter vision of "local" food.  My front yard, for instance.  Or my friend Marianne's greenhouse about twenty minutes away.  Since I live in an area of New York state that butts up against both Vermont and Massachusetts, is produce from those states local?

A local farm (approx. 10 miles from me) markets its sweet corn as "native" corn.  Some people I have talked to think they grow Indian corn.  Maybe "native" vegetables will be the next hot marketing term?

What is your definition of "local" produce/food/goods?  Is local food a fad?  Or are people finally getting it?


  1. Oh very good and thought provoking post! I went to a Farmers Market and saw "Local" EVOO with garlic in it. Naturally, I picked it up and read the bottle. was from California! I live in Illinois!

    That does not meet my definition of local. Local to me is a very short range. As in counties surrounding me. I am centrally located in the state.

    I have noticed that the stores are branding that term. It's a cheap term and one that is bandwagoned. I don't think it makes anyone "get it", it just fools them into it. "Oh, look no more! It's loooocal!" PFFT!

  2. I think the term was meant to be a 100 mile radius of where you live, or so it was when they coined the term. All of these terms become annoying after a while, but when I saw someone buy a plastic syrafoam carton of 8 ears of old tough corn at costco from florida (im in PA) for $6 and a 1/2 mile down the road they are selling a dozen fresh grown 'local' ears for $4 I realized that if it helps one of these ...people.. realize that corn doesnt come in a plastic package and they support the local farm, even if just for a few months out of the year then we are better off. But in this global economy even buying grown in the USA might be local, sadly. Consider that most pineapples come from other countries, yet we have generations of farmers in Hawaii growing them that need our support to buy US pineapple instead of Philippines pineapple. And those farmers will not make it if they can only sell to others in Hawaii who can grow them in their own backyards. They need the export trade or the farms get sold to build vacation properties. There are so many layers to this problem. But like anything, if you buy 90% close to home and the other 10% US grown, we farmers would finally be able to go back to growing food instead of mono-cropping what pays the highest at market for export or feed crop just to keep the taxes paid. Sigh.

  3. APG - Local EVOO? Isn't that an oxymoron unless you live in Greece or Italy or California? Pfft! is right!

    Jane - Good point. I prefer knowing my farmer/grower, but will buy anything made in this country if a) I can find it and b) I can afford it when I find it. But, frankly, I'd rather do without than to buy something made in Mexico, China, Japan or the Philippines. Even if I am partial to pineapples.

  4. In my ride to Vt today I noticed so many little farmstands on people's front selling fresh, baked goods. I think local in this economic time means anything one can sell and make a few bucks on.

  5. Lessee, local eh? No round here it's gone now the way of organic and Free Range! Now I spect there's something up when the sweet corn was marked (with magic marker on ah cardboard ripped off the back of ah tablet)Free Range! Corn? Then there was our reg farmer who sells brown eggs and now calls them organically free ranged! I guess the word local offends here, meaning jist not right (in the head). Jist say'in.

  6. Just wait until the USDA claims ownership of the term "local". How many millions of tax dollars will go down the toilet with that flush?

    Local, to me, means this county or the surrounding counties. I think an 8-hour driving distance is pushing it a bit, but I guess it beats something from China.

  7. This is a good blog,but also raises my temp. a bit.all the stores are going a little crazy right now about everything. from prices to trying to scam you into buying unwanted,unneeded items.there is not much I can do to force these people to do the right thing except complain and try to keep up on my end whats going on in the world. do you think I LIKE TO GO IN THE THE GIFT SHOP/ BIG // PX BECAUSE YOU CAN HARDLY CALL IT THAT ANY MORE AT THE VA HOSPITAL AND BUT MY HUSBAND A HAT HE LIKES IT SAYS U.S Marines but it is made in china along with 90% OF EVERYTHING ELSE IN THERE. GROCERY STORES SELLING SOMETHING LIKE 70% OF EVERYTHING IN THE STORE FROM CORN.CORN BASE CORN SYRUP. IF YOU EVER WATCHED THE EDUCATIONAL DOCUMENTARY "Food Inc" you would know about the corn thing--it takes to long to explain but to make my point-my niece.a school teacher,woke up blind 2 weeks ago---she did not know she was a diabetic

  8. Is local food a fad? Sure, just like other things people jump on the bandwagon for without knowing anything about it. Are people finally getting it? Well, if someone is curious enough or prodded into researching out why "local" food is better for you and our environment, then it helps to have that label out there. As to what is local? I suspect everyone's definition is different. Personally, if it is grown in my county, it's local. Granted our county is huge requiring a drive approx. 55 miles in any direction to reach a border. Our nearest big city is 120 miles away with a climate so different from ours that I don't tend to think of that as local. But do I want to support the gardeners, growers and farmers there? A heckuva lot more than someone in China or South American or Timbuktu!

    It is a complicated situation, to be sure.

  9. And while we're at it, food "trendy" as Indian anything usually is, real Indian corn tastes MUCH different from today's corn. For starters, the protein/carb ration in the kernels has been reversed through genetic management. I doubt very much that today's consumers would even be able to process "real" Indian corn, let alone develop a taste for it. (It was a plant grown for long term storage - dry and functional. Think cornmeal....exactly how many times do you find yourself craving corn scones?

  10. Sylvia - I think I saw the same farm stand. Everyone is trying to make a few bucks - and who can blame them. As I've noted before, I see more and more home gardens. It's a great way to cut down on your grocery bill, grow great natural food and get outside. It's also frustrating as hell...

    Nancy - Free range corn? Now that brings up an interesting image, doesn't it? Love to see how they pull that off!

    Carolyn Renee - Let's just hope the USDA keeps their mitts off "local". They do seem to feel they need to intervene on just about everything, don't they? Having their involvement is a death sentence.

    Judy - Yes, I know what you mean. I went to pick up a Shaker box at the Shaker Village in MA, and all the boxes were made in China! Sacrilege!

    Mama Pea - Yes, the whole subject of the safety and quality of our food is a very complicated thing. So many people are involved, so much money. Greed often gets in the way of green, and to hell with the small farmer. I guess the best we can do is support local farms and tradespeople and try to boycott anything made in China.

    Melanie - Why, I find myself wanting a local Indian corn scone right now! Topped with local native maple syrup! Heehee. If I had gardening room, I would grow some field/Indian corn to make my own cornmeal.

  11. At this point local to me means grown or made in the USA.

  12. I've thought about this a lot and suppose local is relative depending on how far one is used to traveling. I agree it's used as a sales pitch, which always begs insincerity. The real shame is that they don't pass the savings on to the consumer. You also make a good point that a truly local diet can't be separated from seasonal. Basically we're pretty spoiled as an American people when it comes to our food.

  13. I too am totally annoyed by this, and have evolved the term to mean anything grown in my garden, those of friends and neighbors, and hand picking at the farmers' field right here in my town. I don't trust any of that stuff at the larger farmers' markets anymore, only the rickety old farm stands LOL!

  14. I'd call it "local" if it's grown in or just outside my state (CT is pretty small). OTOH, I also have a category of "local enough" when it comes to supermarket shopping. I pretty much never buy things produced outside of the US or Canada, and I avoid produce from CA unless it's a staple (eg carrots, onions) and there are no better choices. I start buying blueberries when they start coming in from Georgia, and I stop buying them when they're no longer grown on the east coast. After that, no more fresh blueberries until the following year. That said, I do buy the bulk of my blueberries (and all the ones I preserve) from farms in my town.