The locavore index rates states in relation to both how available locally grown food is and the extent to which it is consumed. The index is compiled by Vermont’s Strolling of the Heifers, which is a group that has been working to promote local food since 2002. It looks at data from the US Department of Agriculture relating to items such as farmers markets, agricultural ventures supported by the local community and food hubs (facilities that help small farmers to distribute and market their produce) per head of the population. These factors are grouped and referred to as locavorism. For the second year, Vermont has topped the list and was followed by Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Iowa; Texas took the last place and Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and Nevada were also at the bottom of the table. The index doesn’t just serve to commend those states doing well with respect to interest in local food production, it encourages all states to become more involved in efforts to make local food the norm again.
The potential of local food
Vermont’s agricultural heritage and the high priority placed on investment in strategies relating to local food production have led to its standing in the index. The benefits of developing and using local food systems is summed up well by Chuck Ross, the Secretary of Agriculture for Vermont. “A strong local food system creates economic opportunities, preserves the working landscape, serves the nutritional needs of a region, and provides a point of connection for the community.” However, he also acknowledged that there are still many further improvements to be made before we reach a stage where we can feeds ourselves fully using locally sourced items.
Vermont has recognized the benefits of local food not just to its residents, but to the economy of the area and also helps the wider environment. Leading on from Chuck’s summary, here are some of the reasons why Vermont has invested so heavily in its regional food production.
Reduced food miles
By having so many people who grow crops and raise livestock in the state, as well as so many businesses and consumers keen to source food items locally, produce travels a far shorter distance from farm to plate; rather than travelling hundreds or thousands of food miles, it could be less than ten. This helps to significantly reduce the fuel needed for transportation and therefore carbon dioxide emissions; this is very relevant, as global warming remains a key issue.
By having a shorter journey time, spoilage and waste is reduced. This means food is a lot fresher when it is sold and when you come to eat it. Fresher food certainly provides a better food experience – you can definitely taste and smell the difference, as well as appreciating more of a crunch – but it also provides nutritional benefits. The vitamin and mineral content of produce declines with time, so whether it’s a couple of days after picking or a couple of weeks, it potentially makes an impact on the nutrition you receive. The vitamins and minerals found in fruit and vegetables are known to guard against the likes of heart disease and cancer – two of America’s biggest killers – but also can aid your appearance. While you can use all manner of products to help prevent hair loss, wrinkles and brittle nails, what better way to guard against this than nourishing your body from within?
Promoting soil quality
In many parts of the United States, field upon field is devoted to what is known as monoculture, where only one type of crop is grown. While this might be great for producing vast quantities of say corn or wheat, it does little for the soil, as the lack of variety of what is grown contributes to the depletion of nutrients from the soil and also makes it easier for plant diseases to take hold. As a consequence, fertilizers and pesticides need to be used to promote good yields; both items are of further detriment to the soil and a source of pollution. However, the methods used by small local growers tend to steer clear of growing single crops, instead looking to grow a diverse range of items, which maximizes the health of the crops and therefore what they can offer you nutritionally. Without the need to use fertilizers or herbicides, this paves the way for organic farming.
Promoting the local community
More often than not when you shop in a large grocery store, the dollars you hand over to pay for your purchases go to a national chain. However, when you make a spend on locally grown items, this helps to build the area’s economy; supporting family run farms creates jobs not just on their land, but those relating to local processors and distributors as well. Another way that the growth of food close to home can inject money is through the development of agritourism. The opportunity to visit farmers markets and the farms and producers that made the produce they can buy here really does draw people in to visit the area. The growth of tourism helps non-food businesses such as hotels in the region too. Finally, local food also helps to promote community spirit, with many people getting involved and getting to know others who they may never have otherwise met.