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Local food

Local food (also regional food) is a principle of sustainability relying on consumption of food products locally grown. It is part of the concept of local purchasing, a preference to buy locally produced goods and services.

The concept is often related to the slogan Think globally, act locally, common in green politics. Those supporting development of local food economy consider that since food is needed by everyone, everywhere, everyday, a small change in the way it is produced and marketed will have great impact on health, ecosystem and cultural diversity preservation. They say shopping decisions focusing on local food consumption directly affect the well-being of people, improve local economies and may be ecologically more sustainable.

In general, local food is in opposition to the ideas of global free trade. Critics argue that by convincing consumers in developed nations not to buy food produced in the third world, the local food movement damages the economy of third world nations, which often rely heavily on food exports and cash crops.

Critics also say that local food tends to be more expensive to the consumer than regular food and could never provide the variety of foods currently available (such as having summer vegetables available in winter, or having kinds of food available which can not be locally produced due to soil/climate conditions).

However, proponents indicate that the lower price of regular food (which is sometimes called cheap food) is often due to governmental subsidies (in the form of price supports or direct payments or tax breaks) and often does not take into account the true cost of the product. They further indicate that buying local food does not necessarily mean giving up all food coming from distant ecoregions, but rather favoring local foods when available.

Table of contents
1 What defines local or regional?
2 Local food is often equated with organic food
3 Impacts of local food systems
4 History of the local food movement
5 See also
6 External links

What defines local or regional?

The definition of local or regional is quite flexible and is disputed. Some see "local" as being a very small area (typically the size of a city and its surroundings), others would rather suggest the ecoregion size, while others would define refer to the borders of their nation or state.

However, most proponents of "local food" state that "local" has little to do with distance or with the size of a "local" area. For example, some could see the American state of Texas as being "local", though that state is much larger than some European countries. In this case, the distance of transport of a food product across Texas could be longer than the distance between a northern and a southern European country.

It is also argued that national borders should preferably not be used to define what is local. For people living in, say, the South of England, food produced in Northern France is more "local" than food produced in Scotland. Similarly, a cheese produced in Alsace is likely to be more "local" to German people living in Frankfurt, than to French people living in Marseille.

Local is often defined in the view of ecology, trying to see food production from the perspective of a basic ecological unit defined by its climate, soil, watershed, species and local agrisystems, unit also called ecoregion.

Local food is often equated with organic food

Local food is - by definition - food locally grown.

Many local food proponents tend to equate local food with food produced by local individual farmers, while equating non-local food with food produced and transformed by large agribusiness.

Local food is also often interpreted as being organic, or produced by farmers who adopt sustainable and human practices, while non-local food is often seen as a result of corporations, heavy subsidies, poor animal welfare, lack of care for the environment, and poor working conditions. This restricted interpretation is likely due to the fact that the organic movement is largely responsible for renewed development of local and regional markets.

Those using this interpretation will often insist on buying food directly from local family farms following sustainable agricultural practices, or in farmers' markets or food cooperatives. For many, local food is interpreted as unprocessed food (to be transformed by the consumer or local shop rather than by the food industry). As such, local food (as opposed to global food) avoids costs in transport, packaging, advertising, processing, artificial flavors, and chemical preservatives. They support resisting globalization of food (also called global food) by pressing for policy changes and choosing to buy local food.

Impacts of local food systems

Transport distance

A goal of a local food system might be to minimize food transport distance. Transport costs must consider weight as well as distance. If food is processed, it may lose weight compared with unprocessed food. To the extent it is processed nearer production, less weight is transported a longer distance. If it is processed by the consumer, more weight may be transported, though the trip from production to processing can be avoided. The amount of fossil fuel consumed and CO2 emissions released in the atmosphere of more local, unprocessed food vs. less local, processed food are thus ambiguous. This issue is addressed by the field of regional science. A consumer report by the UK Guardian newspaper, published in 2003, found that a selection of 20 fresh food items purchased from British supermarkets had travelled an average of 5,000 miles each[1].

Food quality

Another impact could be increase in food quality and taste. Locally produced food may be consumed more quickly after production, so is often fresher and usually riper (e.g. fruit picked up nearer to maturing state, as in fruit and vegetable gardening). Since food is consumed more quickly, there is less need of chemical or irradiation treatments to artificially extend shelf-life. This debate is particularly intense around organic foods.

Agrisystems and sustainable farming

A major potential impact of local food systems is to encourage multiple cropping, i.e., growing multiple species and a wide variety of crops at the same time and same place (to compare with monoculture).

With a higher demand in various agricultural products, farmers are more likely to diversify their production, thereby making it easier to farm in a sustainable way. For example, winter intercropping (e.g. coverage of leguminous crops during winter) and crop rotation may reduce pest pressure, and so the use of pesticides. Also, in an animal/crop multiculture system, the on-farm byproducts like manure and crop residues may be used to replace chemical fertilizers, while on-farm produced silage and leguminous crops may feed the cattle instead of imported soya. Manure and residues being considered as by-products rather than waste, will have less impact on the environment, and reduction in soya import is likely to be economically interesting for the farmer, as well as more secure (because of a decrease of market dependence on outside inputs).

In a multicultural agrisystem, there is usually a more efficient use of human capital (labour) (as each crop has a different cycle of culture, hence different time of intensive care), minimization of risk (lesser impact of extreme weather as one crop can compensate another), reduction of insect and disease incidence (diseases are usually crop specific), maximization of results with low levels of technology (intensive monoculture cropping often involves very high-technology material and sometimes the use of genetically modified seedss). Multiculture also preserve indigenous biodiversity.

Local economies

Local food production strengthens local economies by protecting small farms, local jobs, and local shops, thus increasing food security.

One example of an effort in this direction is community supported agriculture (CSA), where consumers purchase advance shares in a local farmer's annual production, in return for equal shares of the harvest. In effect, CSA members become financiers of and participants in local farming, by providing up-front cash, and sharing in the risks and rewards of seasonal growing conditions. Some CSA set-ups require members to contribute a certain amount of labor, in a form of cooperative venture.

The popular resurgence of farmers' markets in many parts of the world, including Europe and North America, contributes to local economies. Farmers' markets are traditional in many societies, bringing together local food and craft producers for the convenience of local consumers. Today, some urban farmers' markets are large-scale enterprises, attracting tens of thousands on a market day, and vendors are not always "local". However, the majority of markets are still built around actual local farmers.

there should be more on local food and bartering systems...

Particularly in the "developed nations", the move away from local food to agribusiness over the last 100 years has had a profound socioeconomic impact, by redistributing populations into urban areas, and concentrating ownership of land and capital. In addition, the traditional farming skill set, which by necessity included a diverse range of knowledge and abilities required to manage a farm, has given way to new generations of specialists. When farming for local consumption was a cornerstone of local economies, the farmer was an integral, leading member of the community, a far different position from today. Support for local food is seen by some as a way to rediscover valuable community structures, values and perspectives.

History of the local food movement

The local food movement in the European Union has been hindered by EU rules requiring things produced in the EU, including food, to be marked as products of the EU, rather than as products of any particular country. The instinct of customers to buy nationally produced food in the name of patriotism was deemed to be a barrier to free trade. Of course, as was mentioned above, for people living in the South of England, food produced in Northern France is more "local" than food produced in Scotland.

See also

External links