Shades of Local Food

Day 4 of Eat Local Challenge Series

While the purpose of the Eat Local Challenge in Burlington, Vermont seems clear enough – help support our local food economy, the commitment asked for is somewhat open to interpretation. Each individual decides his or her comfort level of becoming a “localvore” for a day, the week or longer.

As I mentioned yesterday, how one approaches an eat local challenge will have a big impact on what they take away from it, which is why I think it is important to jump fully in so that the individual or family participating will grow their appreciation for what needs to be done to increase the consumption of local foods.

Having said that, I also talked yesterday about easing into this sort of effort, since the last thing any of us wants is for someone to be discouraged by their efforts. As the week progresses, I can see how that might happen, so I have yet another suggestion for the organizers to consider.

One of the difficulties in eating local is finding local products to substitute for non-local foods people are accustom to eating. Primarily, I’m talking about processed and preserved foods within the perishable perimeter of conventional food stores. Assuming such local products are available, which may not be the case as often as us “localvores” might like, how do you find the products? How can you tell whether the ingredients inside are local?

You can’t, generally speaking, unless the food producer or food retailer brings that to your attention using product or shelf labels. More important, even if you did find such labels, how often would such products be 100 percent local? I doubt often.

What we need to consider are “Shades of Local” determined using three locally beneficial components of any food product: Where it was grown/raised, processed and sold. The ideal product would be grown, processed and sold in Vermont by Vermont owned businesses, AND would be (certified) organic. Next best, and not far behind, would be the same product that is not certified organic. At the other end of the spectrum would be the minimum requirements for a product to be considered “acceptable” for the challenge.

While I’m not exactly sure what those requirements should be, intuitively I would say it’s 100 percent of one of the three criteria (e.g., sold by 100 percent Vermont owned business) and greater than 50 percent of the other two (e.g., locally grown or raised and/or processed). After all, for a regional food economy to succeed, all elements of the food chain need to be healthy and growing.

For this to work, the organizers of the Eat Local Challenge will need to work closely with local farms, dairies, food processors and retailers to ensure visual cues are present where people buy their food. This special labeling doesn’t have to be permanent, although that would be ideal, which should make it more manageable. Perhaps the organizers could get a grant to cover the administrative and material costs.

For an example of how this might look and work, we need to look no further than Burlington’s own City Market/Onion River Co-op‘s produce section, which includes color-coded labels for Local, Organic and Conventional. While it takes extra effort and tighter logistics, my family for one found it very helpful.

(Local) food for thought…

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4 responses to “Shades of Local Food

  1. Even better than Certified Organic is Certified Naturally Grown which goes beyond it with standards for access to pasture, local sales, humane and such. See http://NaturallyGrown.org

    • Hi Walter, thought I would mention I saw six of your pigs at Sugarsnap Farm yesterday. Coming along nicely! Abbey and I are working on some ideas to take Sugarsnap to the next level of its life in Chittenden County food system. Exciting stuff!

  2. Rob and others:

    New Seasons Market here in Portland has a Home Grown program that, among other things, uses yellow-tinted shelf tags to denote products grown or processes in OR, WA, and N. CA. More on it here: http://www.newseasonsmarket.com/dynamicContent.aspx?loc=949&subloc=1

    -Scott

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