What is “locally grown” produce? Growers, shippers and marketing agents offer different answers to that question.
Some rely on geographic proximity of the field to the consumer as the final yardstick — a concept popularized by the late health magazine publisher and environmentalist Robert Rodale.
“I also think it is really important to note that the definition of local was defined by Rodale a long time ago as one day’s drive, and I think this is the best definition,” said Gwen Kvavli Gulliksen, sales and marketing director for Harvest Sensations, Los Angeles.
Others put a precise number of miles on the definition.
“The technical term is supposed to be within 100 miles,” said Michelle Mannix, co-owner of Ted & Honey, a New York restaurant that sources products from Long Island, upstate New York and Pennsylvania.
“I’m not sure who put miles onto that definition, but living in a huge city like L.A. makes the mile definition a big deterrent to small family farmers,” said Gulliksen, whose company has been involved in a farmers market program for more than 11 years.
Others say there is no universally agreed-on limit.
“I don’t know that there’s a set rule,” said Ed Odron, owner of Odron Produce Marketing & Consulting Services, Stockton, Calif. “Is it 100 miles? 200 miles? Here in Northern California, San Diego from me is 400 miles. If I have some beautiful tomatoes out of Oceanside, they’re 400 miles away, but it is also California. So, if you asked two or three different retailers, you’re probably going to get five answers. There is no defining locally grown.”
He said produce coming from the same state often is considered “local.”
“In some states, one end to the other is 400 or 500 miles,” Odron said. “I’d feel comfortable as a retailer if I put California-grown. That works. If it grows in your state, that works. If I were a retailer, I’d be marketing California-grown, and in Iowa I’d be touting Davenport or Muscatine or whatever to get that local flair. I think the customers are in tune with it.”
There’s hardly a consensus, though, he said.
When considering locally grown, proximity can be irrelevant, according to David Visher, senior analyst with the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program at the University of California-Davis.
He said the most important element in “local” is a connection to the grower, and that connection doesn’t have to be geographic.