Local produce: don’t think twice, it’s all right

06/03/2013 10:58:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstSome free market thinkers have made a case that government support of local foods is creating inefficiencies and distortions in the system. What's more, it is creating wrong perceptions of what is “sustainable,” they say. Smaller farmers are not more energy efficient, they are less, the argument goes.

In fact, the Fresh Produce LinkedIn Discussion Group has had a very active discussion on this topic, keyed by a story headlined “Beware The High Priests of Locavorism

That Hoover Institution opinion piece was fairly strident in its criticism of the local food movement, ultimately attacking the idea that consumers and politically correct lawmakers should be pressured to rely on local food. From the column by Henry Miller:

No one should be opposed to patronizing nearby farmers’ markets for fresh products in season—or, for that matter, to individuals opting to adopt fad diets or home remedies. But it is abusive for governments to subsidize the locavore movement, in which the state has scant economic interest and for which legislators should have little appetite.

The discussion thread is long and heated.

I don’t see a reason for paranoia about the local food movement. Local food won’t replace commercial shippers.

Consumer demand, not government edict, is driving the local food movement. Doubling food stamp value in farmers' markets is hardly breaking the federal piggy bank. nor will it impoverish the treasury to give an option for local food purchases by school foodservice directors.

Far from living on Easy Street, local food producers face substantial struggles of their own, particularly the prospect of complying with escalating food safety expectations. Here is one comment to the FDA about the worries that small growers have about the food safety regulations from the FDA.

From Lee Stivers, of Penn State Extension:

As an Extension Educator working with vegetable and fruit producers in Pennsylvania, I have concerns about how the implementation of FSMA will affect our large number of smaller scale, highly diversified producers. Specifically:

• High cost of implementation, documentation and repeated testing (e.g. water, compost) threaten the viability of a farming system that is largely sustainable in our state.

• Interpretation of some of our more complicated direct marketing channels (produce auctions, cooperatives, CSAs)

• Small family farmers with diversified operations may unexpectedly fall into the “over $500,000” total food sales category even if their fresh produce sales are $25,000 or less.

• Strict limits and long time intervals on the use of animal manures may have a negative impact on otherwise sustainable farming practices, such as crop rotations, nutrient management, integrated production systems.

• How can we reasonably include draft animals? Many of our producers are members of Plain Communities (Amish, Mennonite) and this segment of produce producers is growing in Pennsylvania.

• Members of Plain Communities cannot use information technologies that would make recordkeeping and documentation efficient.


Small growers can match woe for woe with the large grower. 

So what will become of the local food movement?

Will it keep gaining ground or will it flounder aimlessly as consumers embrace another food trend? How much passion will consumers sustain for "local food"? What should be attitude of the industry toward "local food" - approval, neutrality or disdain?

Live and let local, I say. 

Check out the question at The Packer Market and tell us what you think.



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