A new survey compares states in their commitment to raising and eating locally grown food. Vermont ranks #1 and Maryland ranks #39. The survey uses data from government sources (principally USDA and US Census data) from 2010 and 2011. The Locavore Index measures the number of Community-Supported Agricultural enterprises and Farmers Markets per-capita, each of which “is an indication of both the availability and demand for locally-produced food”. Of course, it would be nice to compare actual farm purchases per capita, but such data isn’t available nationwide. However, these resources are a nice simple measure of level of support for farm sales to consumers.
The survey points out that Vermont is doing many things well, despite its long winters and short summers. It also points out that Maryland has room for improvement in developing market sites for direct-to-consumer retail on a per-capita basis. But that is not the only way that local food can be made available to eager consumers. Local restaurants, grocery stores, and institutions (such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes) can provide good ‘secondary’ markets for local farmers.
These secondary markets require a good food distribution system and willing institutions. One of the common refrains in Maryland is that while schools could be a good market for local farm goods, they are closed during the summer when farm production is at its peak. However, a followup article from the Brattleboro Reformer notes that schools, hospitals, and nursing homes are all doing a good job of sourcing local food from their kitchens.
Vermont has placed a high priority on developing its local food industry and has adopted a Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. The forward reads: “The Farm to Plate Strategic Plan links Vermont’s agricultural history and entrepreneurial spirit with a forward-looking plan for a strengthened local economy. It provides our state with a road map to new jobs and increased market share as well as improved physical, environmental and economic health. By working together to implement this Plan, we will grow our economy, maintain our working landscape, and strengthen our communities.” Signed by the governor and broadly endorsed by major business and agricultural groups, it provides a template for success.
Many states should acknowledge the jobs and economic development potential of a strong local food industry and develop a farm to plate strategy plan. At the local level, those of us who believe in the benefits of local foods systems, should ‘walk-the-walk’ by supporting our local CSAs, farmers markets, wineries, breweries, and distilleries, and restaurants and grocery stores who source/sell local products whenever we have the opportunity.
Quoting Wendell Berry, “As you shorten the distance between the consumer and producer, you increase the consumer’s power to know and influence the quality of food.” You also increase the economic capacity and well-being of your community with each purchase!