Ryan Goodman is a generational rancher from Arkansas with a degree in Animal Science from Oklahoma State University in Animal Science, and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, studying beef cattle management. He is one of many farmers using social media to bridge the gap between farmers and urban customers. Follow his story daily at AgricultureProud.com or on Twitter and Facebook.
The term "local" is used frequently in conversations centered on the American food system. Is it 50 miles from your home or 500? Must the food be purchased directly from the farmer? Can the food be sourced by a retailer and sold under a "local" label for stronger buying power?
I have listened to several panel discussions on food topics over the past year and the topic of local food sources normally pops up. Some of these panel discussions have included suburban or urban mothers and restaurant owners. When asked what they considered local food and farmers, a common theme arises, and it bothers me: the urban ideal of what local farmers should look like.
My family has raised beef cattle in Arkansas for several generations. Most of our cattle are shipped to the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles and Western Kansas. These areas have ample feed available for cattle and farmers who specialize in feeding cattle until they reach their harvest weight. In these parts of the country, the land is flat, more arid, and conducive to higher populations of livestock than people.
We feed a few cattle for local harvest each year to feed our family and occasionally a neighbor will buy a fattened beef for their family. We have focused primarily on cattle production rather than adding in diverse local marketing. Is my family considered a “local farm” to our area? I would not have second-guessed that assumption a few years ago.
I grew up in the heart of Arkansas cattle and farmland. Our county produces far more beef and crops than could ever be consumed by the local population of 78,000. We are thankful for a national market to trade our cattle and be able to reinvest in our land and livestock and feed our families.
Now I find myself in Knoxville, Tennessee with a metro-area population over 700,000 people. We have several local farms and multiple seasonal farmers markets around town. There is a regional dairy brand and we are surrounded by cattle, swine, and poultry livestock farms as well as many vegetable farms. Unfortunately, there are far too many people in the area for immediate farmers to supply our food needs. We are thankful for a national market to bring in food supplies from farmers in more rural parts of the country.
Many folks, like the panelist moms and restaurant owners, look at my family and say we are not local farmers simply because we do not provide for their food preference. As a family farmer trying to make a living with the skills I know best, those statements offend me.
My family contributes to the local economy, buying our supplies in local shops and paying all of our taxes. We are every bit a part of the local community as anyone else. Why should we be looked down upon because we make a good business decision for our livelihood when marketing our livestock? Sometimes I wonder if America is just a country full of food snobs.
If there were a stronger demand for our beef in a local market, we would probably sell more beef to neighbors. If all of our neighboring farmers did the same, what would happen to the excess? Where would folks in places like Knoxville receive their beef? What about larger cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta, or New York?
Local food is a great choice and opportunity for many folks, but there is a stronger need for national markets to provide food on a consistent and broader scale. Farmers like my family should not be looked down upon because we do what is best for our future, our land, livestock, or even business.
Invest money in what you believe is important for your community, health and family, but do not look down on others because they make different food choices. Remember, you can make multiple choices; local on some things, national on others, and other people will make the right choices for themselves and their family. We should all be thankful for what we have. Things are pretty great and certainly could be far worse.
Do you want to discuss food options with more farmers and friends of agriculture? Try folks like the Zwebers who run an organic dairy in Minnesota, central Utah dairy farmer Trent Bown, Brian Scott who grows crops in Indiana, Alabama Slow Food farmer Jan Hoadley, Kentucky-based butcher Amy Sipes, blogger Janice Person, farming advocate Anthony Pannone and many others using the #agchat tag on Twitter.
What defines local for you? Should family farmers be penalized because they market a product to a national community? How can you strengthen the market for local products in your community? Let's have a conversation, starting in the comments below.
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Resist biosolids(organic sewage.use mined plankton.used by pyramid builders.
A local farmer should have a farm to work in and the specialties of his work should make his work apparent. Atleast one shed to store the equipments and other instruments should be there. I remember when one of my uncle found a shed from http://www.durasteel.co.nz/shop/garages.html
And it is still there from a long time with the same new look.
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They should look like me!
GA- I'm a black female farmer.
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I just "liked" your Facebook page. I have just started raised bed gardening and love, love, love it. may I contact you? (I'm the editor of this site.)
I am sorry but you cannot call yourself a local farmer if you sell all your crops or livestock to out of state large corporate entities. yes your farm may be in the local area, you may live there and yes pay taxes there but your farm is not supplying the local region. and therefore you are not a locavore farm. when you start selling dorect to the public at least 51% of the time instead of wholesaling your farm products to out of state corps than you can make that claim.
And for the same reasons CAFO/Factory farms cannot be considered local if little to none of what they raise stays in the food shed region.
Sorry that you don't fit the definition of local farm, change your operation so you can or quit complaining. You made your choice so don't go whining when your farm does not fit the general definition of what local agriculture is. just like I made my choice to be a local farm that sells mainly direct to the public or directly to locally owned stores. Unlike you 55% to 60% of my time is spent marketing and I know around 90% of my customers personally and because I sell my product locally over 75% of that money stays in the region unlike the money you make from selling your stock to out of state companies which means less than 40% of the money you make stays in the area.
What people dont get is factory farms are local too, and a lot of local farms sell to mass production facilities and Walmart. Local doesnt mean quality, it just means local.
Quality mainly comes from the right environment for the kind of food being grown. A locally grown chili in Michigan is going to suck compared to one grown in New Mexico.
Within the past year, I heard an unemployed aerospace engineer from Huntsville, AL, repeatedly say that he designs robotic equipment that works in the gravity conditions of space. Great, I wanted to say back to him, but can you not adapt your skills to producing high-tech robotics that work on earth? Surely you can produce something that works somewhere other than space! He sounded like a man who thought he was entitled a job in aerospace. He needs to adapt.
Did it ever occur to you to raise something that the local area does want? I say this not to offend but merely to ask if you've considered it. People generally are moving away from red meat and commodity crops such as those produced using seeds from Janice Person's employer, Monsanto, and toward fruits and vegetables. I understand that your family has cattle ranched for generations, but does that entitle you to keep ranching, economically speaking? I know plenty a farmer in Arkansas who has made the smart move to stop producing commodity crops and start producing the type of local products Americans want now. I also know new farmers who have gotten into small-scale, free-range and chemical-free production for local distribution, such as Andrea and Cody of Falling Sky Farm. As energy prices continue to rise (and no US policy changes can impact the global market sufficiently to stop that from happening), local will be even more of a necessity. The times they are a changing, Mr. Goodman, and the successful business man will change with them. Grow your supply for what your market demands.
Are you going to be like aerospace engineer who is clearly an intelligent man but one who lacks adaptability? Will your livelihood disappear as people continue to trend away from beef, or will you adapt? You can be offended that people don't consider you a local farmer, but you won't help your bottom line that way.
The problem is that there are not enough consumers near the producers. There are not enough producers near large cities. It is not possible for most producers to only sell locally or for most consumers to only buy locally.
Little Rock and other cities now have urban farmers that are serving increasing numbers of local people. I don't think the issue is that of location, though, as the southeast is considerably more populated than the places where the cattle are going.
That is so true. Most people do not even want the smell of manure and the sound of equipment running all night in the spring near them. It's funny when it is time to spread manure and some one makes a comment about the smell, yet they eat only organic food. They don't even know that a major part of organic farming is the use of manure.
Grow some ironic facial hair and get a tattoo. that will help you cred as a local farmer.
How about you grow some maturity?
This guy gets it!
Also, to the opponents of production agriculture, your rants usually have more credibility when you spell check and use correct grammar.
In addition, local, organic, and all natural are fine choices for those who have the disposable to purchase them. Production agriculture provides safe, nutritious, and a consistent supply of food sources for the world. On the topic of the world, there are an estimated 7 billion people on this planet, and of those estimated 7 billion people, an estimated third of them are going to go to bed tonight with an empty stomach. Only through production agriculture can the third of the worlds population struggling with starvation and malnutrition aspire to one day feel as well fed and comfortable as those that claim that it is a problem. Organic, natural, and all natural does not provide the yields necessary to satisfy the worlds nutritional needs. We should all be so fortunate to have this debate, in most other parts of the world the debate is, is there enough food and is it nutritious and or safe enough to meet peoples nutritional needs.
Finally, local, organic, and all natural is fine but, that doesn't mean you have to say that those that don't produce local, organic, and all natural products are somehow inferior. The previous claim that local, organic, and all natural is some how better is a matter of opinion, I know so because no scientific evidence can be found to substantiate the claim that in any way, shape, or form. Local, organic, and all natural are merely new segments of the food supply to satisfy consumers want for diversity and greater choices on the retail shelves, nothing more, nothing less. Food and agriculture are a business like any another, take the emotion out of business and act like an adult.
That is all.
Also, to the opponents of production agriculture, not sure if you saw what i did there but I did not insult, defame or make unsubstantiated claims.
Be well and do good work!
"Local" does NOT mean greener
I did teh math for some locally grown produce compared to "from away" produce. Local produce is driven 200 miles, round trip, in small trucks (1/2 to 3 ton). "From Away" produce is never in anything smaller than an 18-wheeler.... a simple fact of product transport is that the larger the transport medium the less fuel is used per pound. For example, a ton of cargo can be moved over 500 miles by train per gallon of diesel. Cargo ships are even more efficient. When I did the math, produce shipped from 2500 miles away had the same fuel consumption per ton as produce brought into town from 100 miles away via smaller vehicles
And, that only takes into account transport of the final product. For a clear picture we need to consider irrigation needs, distance fertilizer is shipped, mechanization ofthe farms, and even CO2 sinks (is a forect cut down to grow veggies or is a desert irrigated to grow crops where there was just sand)
No, local does NOT mean greener, it just FEELS greener
Kevin, you have left something very important out of your math. Food "from away" uses not only the train, boat and 18 wheeler, but the small truck too. I don't know about you, but I live more than 100 miles away from a port. I don't live anywhere near a rail spur. Food gets to me first by truck, train, boat and then by smaller truck. You have to add the two.
And, to the cry-baby who wrote this article. Sorry that you are so offended that the people around you don't want to buy your low quality meat. Perhaps if you made a better product, the people who live near your farm would buy it. It is simple economics. Supply and demand. If there is no local demand for your meat, what on earth are you producing? The reality is that your way of producing meat is unhealthy, both for the cattle and for the consumer. I am sorry that you don't get this. But don't cry when people don't want to buy your product.
Tom- they do sell some beef locally. The problem is everyone in their area would have to eat a hundred pounds of beef a day for all the producers to stay in business in everyone sold only locally. Then, in cities there would be very little beef available. It is supply and demand. Beef is raised in low population density area and the demand is in high density areas. You could turn central park in NY into pasture land and wouldn't make a dent in the demand for beef in NY.
My husband and I are small farmers and we have a very successful CSA program. We consider local to be within the state you live in and into the borders of neighboring states. We have been doing this for a while now and we have come to some major conclusions; 1) a farmer cannot do it all by himself. We depend on other farmers to meet the consumers demands along with what we can produce. (we have in season,fruit, produce, eggs, chicken, pork, and this year, beef) if we want to offer other items to our customers it has to come from other farmers. Also if you have a drought at your farm maybe the guy 15 miles away got that extra rainstorm that you did not and his crop of that particular item did not fail. 2) There is so much misinformation out there for the consumer about certification programs and because of that a lot of our time and energy goes to educating the public. The consumer seems to buy into whatever the hip magazine or TV program tells them without doing proper research themselves. For example recently some TV doctors said not to eat t-bone steaks but do eat KC strip and NY strip. It"s pretty funny that they don"t know that they are actually the same cut of meat just without the bone. 3) A major concern for the farmer is getting his product to the consumer. We do not have a farmers market in our town and the closest one is over 30 minutes away. Their rules state that if we don't grow or produce everything 100% in our CSA we cant even drop it there. So that means we have to find somewhere that is willing to let us set up a stand and market it at that site while at the same time having it be feasible. (this summer one place we looked at wanted $500.00 a month just for us to be there one day a week.) We take our programs to the big cities which are at least 2 hours away. When you transport and set up for sale, whether it is five miles or 150 care needs to be taken to keep the product fresh till the consumer buys it. Some consumers don't understand that process very well. We are not like big chain grocery stores which was their produce to keep it fresher longer. (One of the points about buying local is to consume it within a reasonable amount of time, like say a week, not having to set the tomato for example, out on the counter for 2 weeks for it to ripen before you eat it.) Along with the transport and display at markets you also have the local and state laws to comply with and pay license, insurance and fees. 4) Marketing and promotion takes a lot of time, energy, know how, money, etc.. My husband spends hours a week keeping track of the website, blog, facebook, and the other necessary paperwork. We have also invested a lot of money into signage, display racks, vehicles, etc. 5) most people don't even know what seasonal is. They want green beans and tomatoes in the winter and broccoli in the summer. They figure that if the local grocery has it we ought to have it too. A lot of consumers don't have any idea about different varieties either. To some a tomato isn't a tomato unless it is red and the size of a baseball. Our farm is constantly changing and improving to benefit our family, our community and our customers. We are certified with Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Naturally Grown who both have the highest standards in the nation. (Look them up on their websites). We wish there were more people who truly understand the life of the farmer and at the same time can clearly define what they want from their food and are willing to learn about both.
We have heard it all at our farm also. If you are supplying food for people who want it and you are making your mortgage payments, then more power to you. We both know consumers are really fickle nowadays and some don't know who to trust. The media contradicts itself every few weeks and it makes people scared. The whole food confusion thing seems to be running a certain course and we have to just keep farming and not get too upset at people when they don't understand the big picture
Yucky land.secrets with fertilizer?try feeding land(plants) mined plankton that Mayans used.and people before.i found tunnel in 2meter deep green dirt.feedstock of pyramid builders.you use bio solids.
Kiwi fruit can in fact be locally grown in Pennsylvania. I have three artic kiwis planted. Though it'll be a few more years before they start to really bear a crop.
MD sellers can advertise produce/dairy/fish as local grown but must also include the state/country where it was grown. This fall, at a local farmers market a vender was selling kiwifruit, I asked the vender how Kiwifruit is considered "local grown" and he replied that he is following the law and pointed a very small place card that stated product of New Zealand
so goes it for local grown product
Sweet boy, you don't have to wonder, America is indeed filled with a great many food snobs! LOL Some have turned food into a religion, and like the Sneetches with stars on their bellies, you 'have none upon thar's'...
Too much ego in the food movement. How else could Alice Waters cook an egg on a freaking shovel in a brick oven in her kitchen, on national televison no less, and not be looked at askance? Instead the foodies go 'oooh, i want a brick oven in my kitchen, isn't she cooool!'
The irony is, an old time farm woman grabs a few fresh eggs that her chickens just laid, puts them in a battered skillet and the end result is: breakfast.
THAT is the difference of what you speak. I think that this discussion is important not because of food snobs, trends or what they want to purchase. It's important because some common sense needs to be injected into the discussion that has been lacking of late.
What we SHOULD be doing is shooting for what is healthy AND what works in the real world. Not turning farms and farmers into boutique products.
Haha, that is funny about the egg cooking. But I don't know if it's really fair to label these people "food snobs" or "foodies." I have friends who are fascinated by cooking and it's many incarnations. It's their thing, their hobby. They agonize over food details, because they're interested, just like I'm interested in the details of, well, what interests me. Also, I eat some organic vegetables (the Dirty Dozen ones) and have been scorned for that. It's for my health; not sure why that choice offends people. Anyway, funny about the farm woman and the egg, and yep, it would be just as delicious!
Why is it so bad to be a "food snob"? I think we should encourage people to be diligent and picky about what they consume to nourish their bodies. Maybe then America wouldn't be so grossly overweight.
It seems as though a great many farmers take offense that they don't appeal to every market; they feel looked down upon because they are not "good enough" to be purchased by foodies or health nuts or what have you. They shouldn't be offended–no product will ever appeal to every market.
I'll be honest, I'm no foodie or health nut; but I certainly don't buy just any meat when I go to the store. I make an effort to buy from pasture-centered farms, that don't use antibiotics, hormones, etc. I am very thankful for the animals that I eat and I refuse to support an industry or company that profits from gestation crates, feeding animals what God did not intend for them to eat (corn to cattle and salmon), poisoning the environment because there is too much concentrated waste to do away with (swine farms...ew), or genetically engineering crops. If that makes me a food snob, so be it. I don't see how big ag is being penalized by these people; we're not buying your products? Get over it. If you truly cared that much about obtaining our business, you would give us a product that we want. You wouldn't whine about how snobby we are.
Wow, powerful comments and I agree. It seems like we Americans were willing to take whatever was shoveled toward us, but now we're more discerning and want healthier products.
There is no scientific evidence anywhere to support the claim that local, organic, or all natural is healthier. Your body and digestive system can not tell the difference between organic apples and non-organic apples nor can it tell the difference between pasture raided beef or corn fed beef. To make such a claim that one is healthier than the other is an opinion not a fact that can be verified by science. But you are most certainly entitled to your opinion.
In the part of North Central Georgia where I live, "local farm" to me brings images of a huge fenced lot with a brand-new 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom mansion "farmhouse" in the middle of it, a fancy pool out back, stale haybales strewn about, a $35.000 bass boat in the barn and a rusty tractor sitting somewhere outside with weeds growing around it. Every two years the "farmer" will campaign, tooth and nail, for a local boy who will keep the Washington farm subsidies coming, because he loves to get paid not to grow...
"Local" food largely means that some foods taste best only where they are created. Take Sourdough bread(San Francisco), Salmon (Pacific NW), Key Lime Pie (FL south of Orlando), Barbequed Pig(NC but a "religious issue), and Onion Soup (Quebec!) just for example. They only taste best where they were created and anywhere else just isn't good enough once you've had the real thing.
Probably a much better answer than the writer. He never answered the question. You have. Thanks
Thanks for noticing. No, I didn't give a specific definition for local food, because I don't think there is one to cover all. It's all relative and each person needs to define it for themselves. But I did say that everyone has a choice and I believe we need all types of farming to make things work.
Problem is that when national chains like Safeway or Regional chais like Fred Meyer which are owned by national chains like Krogers (biggest in the U.S.) advertise "local" the average consumer KNOWS that it's not local. It's national. When I buy eggs with ad ad for local, I assume that it means within 500 miles. Anything closer would be a miracle unless specified in the ad OR on the label of the product.
Never eat crab cakes in Nevada. Did it once. Major mistake. LOL
In service to the Greater Kansas City Area for over 20 years, we combat the negative effects of a globalized (not just nationalized) food supply EVERY DAY.
Vote with your food dollars by buying LOCALLY GROWN PRODUCTS from LOCAL GROWERS.
I love that Ryan Goodman always takes the conversation to a new level. I’ve been reading his articles for quite some time…and oddly, we are always thinking on very much the same lines.
I say oddly because I am a middle-aged woman, who (along with my husband) has been farming and DIRECT marketing to the LOCAL community for over 15 years. While we truly benefit from the whole “local” movement, in some ways the assumptions aggravate me beyond reason.
All the labels that can be put on food are no guarantee of longevity, which I truly think is the one thing for which the buying public would pay dearly. It doesn’t matter if you’re organic, sustainable, alternative...or chartreuse and pink…your farming practices cannot and do NOT guarantee ANYTHING. While sustenance is absolutely necessary to life, the manner in which it is produced is absolutely not.
We found ourselves in a desperate situation years ago. I mean DESPERATE…as in…do something or possibly die of hunger. We made the decision to focus on providing food for the public. While we can only provide food for a relatively small number of folks from our tiny farm, we provide a quality product, work our butts off (proverbially and otherwise) and have operated “in the black” more years than not.
Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a “no-man’s zone”. Big farms look down on us and call us a “hobby farm”, painting everyone with the broad brush of retired yuppies. (NOPE, not us) Townies consider us the “enemy” when we don’t castigate all the bigger farms for being worshippers of the evil Monsanto. Again…ain’t gonna do it.
Recently, I walked away from a position on the local food policy task force because I just couldn’t stomach the first communication that actually accused big farms of embracing the “pesticide pushers”. (come on….seriously?) Perhaps I should have stayed if for no other reason than to communicate the fact that we need EVERYONE who is willing to raise food to take an active part for those who cannot or will not.
Quite frankly, feeding the entire world population is an overwhelming task. It will take everyone currently involved in any kind of agricultural production and then some. If the goal is to have food in everyone’s stomach, then methodology doesn’t matter.
It would be wonderful if everyone involved in agriculture could work together to feed those who cannot raise their own food. It would be equally (maybe even more) wonderful if those who were buying the food would quit with the labels and the name-calling and be thankful for the food that graces their tables.
If anyone is interested in reading about small-scale production and the issues faced by the “little guys”, I’ve been blogging our farm for years. I truly hope you'll visit our blog. http://homesteadhillfarm.blogspot.com /
I fully embrace the entire AGVOCACY movement. Yay Ryan!
I agree completely and am right there with you!! It's little consolation when it seems like being the rope in a tug of war...but we all do what is right for us. Not much I can say that helps – but you're definitely *not* alone!!
Thank you for posting this – and thank you for the work you do (both on the farm and off). We take for granted the food on our tables – and in our stores. How often are we upset because there wasn't "good" asparagus at the market? or grumble because we didn't "like" how the steak looked at the grocery store? We, as consumers, expect our demands to be met with little or no consideration where it comes from or what it took to get it there. When you speak in terms of feeding a world wide population, not making enough interesting options available to US consumers, but FEEDING a hungry world population, it should give us pause. Thank you for the re-focus and for the dinner in my crock pot awaiting my return from work.
I have to disagree that "methodology doesn't matter". Methodology created the dustbowl. (Discing up deep rooting prairie grasses and replacing it with wheat. First drought, all the wheat dies and the soil blows away.) That is not to say that we do not need food from a variety of sources, but we need to think about "best practices". I have a small farm/ranch at Red Rock, TX. It is a weekend getaway place for me. All of my neighbors raise beef cattle and every other year or so, they spray weed killer and fertilizer on their hay pastures. In a way, it looks pretty – rolling waves of green grass. Except that's all there is – rolling waves of green grass. I don't spray my property (its been organic for 35 years), so I have less hay, but I have about 15 acres of wildflowers and 15 acres of clover. (And bees. None of my neighbors have bees because there is not much food for them. I have hives and my bees seem to be satisfied.) I am not suggesting that I am "right" and they are "wrong", but every choice we make in life has consequences, intended or unintended.
Ryan, good to see you writing again! I think the local movement helps people get to meet farmers and see the dirt on the veggies so to speak. It's a good lesson in where these products come from (the earth! Amazing!). But no, farmers who can't sell locally and sustain themselves should in no way be denigrated. You've simply adapted to your particular market. All businesses have to expand/adjust as needed. I would hope most people would appreciate the choices we're given because of this. Many of us pick and choose either local OR the supermarket depending on what we want. It's amazing to have so many choices locally, nationally, and globally, thanks to you and other farmers.
Keep up the good conversation!
Good article. The whole 'local is healthier' thing is ridiculous. And on reducing your carbon footprint.....I'm sure these local food buyers also buy locally produced cars, laptops and smartphones. Every rural area has that guy that builds those in his shed from the stuff he gathers in the woods.....
Good grief! With all the troubles in the world people have time to argue if my homegrown beef, pork, and chicken that I sell is "local" or not because I have to drive 40 miles to have it processed? Time to get a life...
Where I live, most cities have open farmer's markets at least one day a week. Gives the local farmers a place to sell their goods. If you drive out in the country, there will be roadside stands everywhere. I have my favorites that I buy from during the summer/fall months. You know who grew it, and how they grew it. I'd much rather support our local farmers when possible. Not to mention, their product is always better than what you buy in the local grocery store. I know this isn't exactly what this article is about, but just a different view from my area.
Ryan – There are no official standards for the term "local" in the food industry although it's widely accepted that it means the product was produced within 100 miles. You do not fit in this bucket and that's o.k. I think the word you're looking for is "regional", which generally means the product was produced within 275-300 miles. It's sort of silly to be steamed about not fitting into a certain, high-trending definition. Own what you are and make no apologies but please don't blame others, such as the suburban moms and restaurant owner panelists. (I fall into the suburban mom panelist category and am also a university instructor on the topic.) You say that we are stating that you are not a local farmer simply because you do not provide for our food preference... Hogwash. I love beef and feed it to my family at least twice a week. We are stating you are not local because you're not. It's as simple as that.
Thanks for the comment. I'm not blaming the panelists, just using it as a sample of the many comments I've received.
Local isn't about distance, its about relationships. I blogged about this last year:
Thanks for mentioning me along with those other trusted sources Ryan. I hope that people feel free to reach out to me or any of us with any questions, concerns, or comments. After all that is the point of all this right?
As a farmer myself I completely support peoples choice to eat and buy local food. I think that it's great if you decide to support your local farmer. ALL farms contribute to their local communities just by being there. I'm sure the farmer you have chosen to by from is grateful for your support.
However I think it's a sad reflection of how divisive our nation has become when a once small family farm chooses to expand and they are looked at poorly by some for doing so. It's usually a matter of survival when farms make the decision to expand. If we want future generations to be encouraged to return to our operations we need to be able to support them and make it look like a good option for them. I wouldn't have been able to be a 5th generation farmer, had my family not been willing to sell our milk to more than just the local town of 250 people. There are far too many dairymen and farmers I know who are no longer encouraging there children to come back to the farm for that very reason.
Further more as I farmer it bothers me to know that there are starving people around the world and I have the ability to help them by doing more with the land and animals I am blessed to have. I like to think that I can be a part of the solution and feel sad that some people choose to look down on that choice like it's a bad thing. I would hope that we could all realize that it takes the farmer who sells "locally" just as much as the farmer who ships his product to other countries, to make this world run and be a better place. There isn't a right or wrong choice, we should feel blessed to live in a place where we can choose where are food comes from instead of choosing of choosing who gets to eat or not.
Many states offer a "buy local" program like the one here in GA, usually run by the Dept of Agriculture...easy to find if you're interested. We welcome and encourage all growers, traditional, natural and organic, to our program as well as those who support the effort and their local economic growth. Here in Atlanta, we also have many other, more specialized groups and CSAs. There are still food deserts, but we are working to make locally-grown more accessible across Georgia. BTW, in the last Ag census, the number of farms actually went UP for the first time in decades. Good news.
Maryland produce sellers at the local market can label their products locally grown if their business is based within the state and not necessarily where the the product is grown so buyer beware in Maryland
I think the local food movement is dead on when it comes to produce, however, livestock is a little different. For a tomato or banana that is grown across the country to make it to your supermarket, it has to be picked several weeks before it's ripe, resulting in a diminished quality of taste and nutrition. Anyone who thinks otherwise has never had the opportunity to eat something that's been matured naturally on the vine. The closer you are to the source the better chance you have of it being at it's optimal harvest time. With livestock, a farm can be 5 miles away and still pump their cattle full of hormones, send them to artifical feed lots etc. When it comes to livestock, it's much more about not having a cattle factory than it does about location.
Precisely. This farmer admitted his cattle are shipped out to a mass production meat market, stuffed with grain and sent through a packaging facility. The concept of buying local is to a) reduce the carbon footprint of your food, b) avoid the hazards of mass processed foods, where diminished nutrition, genetic modification and bacteria/disease are byproducts, and c) to keep your dollar local and give local businesses a more premium price for their goods in order to build your community.
If you think a tomato is picked several weeks before it gets to the grocery store, you don't know anything about food production. Fresh food makes its way from farm to market very quickly and efficiently.
And by the way, I have ripe tomatoes and other veggies outside in my 60ftx25ft vegetable garden. I do understand that ripe harvested tomatoes are much tastier. Strawberries, too. Most other fruits and vegetables, there is little or no difference.
Not sure what this farmer's 'beef ' is ;oD. If the guy is sellin' his cows outs state and makin' money an' no one's coming onto his land sceamin' at him sayin' he's a traitor to the local economy, then what should he care what the locals think?
For me, when I say I eat local it's through my CSA share, my garden, and the local farmer's market. My decision to do so actually has nothing to do with my "carbon footprint", it's because I know who is growing my food. I have no problem with purchasing food from the store, particularly meats (though I prefer organic), but fortunately my CSA program actually offers organic beef, chicken, pork and turkey as well which isn't that common among the local CSA's. I'm in the Nashville area. I also get farm eggs every week. I know they do not use chemicals, pesticides, any kind of preservative, etc. I know I am getting food as God intended it, in its purest form. I love knowing the food that I give my little girls is free of chemicals. I know the produce I get at the store isn't the same quality. The meats are similar however, but surprisingly the store is usually a little more expensive. Fortunately with our climate we can tolerate many kinds of fruits and veggies year round. I know other people do not necessarily have the same options though. Oh, and the food we get weekly in our CSA come from about 45 miles south of me.
"Invest money in what you believe is important for your community, health and family, but do not look down on others because they make different food choices." Ryan, you rock. Keep tellin' it.
Great article. The "local" food movement annoys me. I have nothing against people who choose to do it, but the idea that it is somehow superior, safer, healthier just because it was grown closer is a joke. And anyone who buys "local" food to "reduce their carbon footprint".... You're fooling yourself. Just because the food travels fewer miles does not mean it consumes fewer resources. And if you are driving out of your way to get that food, it may be consuming orders of magnitude more resources. Driving your car even a short distance to pick up a few pounds (or even many pounds) of food consumes more energy per pound of food than is consumed to truck or rail that food cross-country.
Hi there! Lots of great thought and commentary about a topic I'm personal invested in.
I think "local" really means "healthy" and "tasty" when it comes to food and to "buy local" is more important in terms of the economics for a local community anywhere. The combination of the two meanings and understanding of how unique goods and services add a cultural benefit to all is what isn't always apparent when the term is used as often as "green" used to be, but I do believe their is intrinsic value in what we are all helping define collectively.
How is a dollar going to a farmer that lives nearby better than it going to a farmer that lives 1000 miles away? Either way it supports a community, and one would be incredibly arrogant to suggest that their own community is more important.
The proximity to ones home also has nothing to do with how healthy a food is. With a few exceptions, of course, since some foods don't travel well.
I live in the middle of the Mojave Desert. If I bought only "local" food, I would be eating...hmmm...let me think. Oh yeah. Sand :)
Yeah, but Mojave desert sand is very high quality. ;oD
You are not a local farmer, no biggie, just the way it is. So you can keep your feed lot beef, I'll stick to locally raised grass fed and finished beef that never leaves my area.
The simple fact is that a properly run small farm can out produce and big mono crop farm anywhere. I try and support the best and local is by far the best.
You raise an excellent point about the ability to buy local in urban areas. It just isn't feasible. However, I do have concern about the chemicals and antibiotics being introduced to our food supply. I don't eat beef anymore because I have driven through Hereford Texas many times and have seen the condition of these animals before they are slaughtered. If I want beef, I have friends who own small family ranches who can slaughter and butcher meat that has not been pumped up with questionable antibiotics, steroids or what-have-you to keep them on their feet before they reach the slaughterhouse- all at a reasonable price. These are grass fed cattle, no unnatural corn fed beef. A dairyman's son once told me about the source of our cheap fast food meat. No thank you. I have also switched to organic milk or almond milk due to the same reasons. If that makes me a food snob, I am happy to be a food snob. Google pictures of natural salmon compared to GM salmon. You cannot convince me that is natural anymore than you can convince me Lance Armstrong was that great of a cyclist.
Stacey – your post is full of falsehoods and you have been duped by "food snobs." Cattle are not pumped with "questionable" products. They have all been approved by the FDA.
Hank, "approved by the FDA" is not much of an argument. I happen to disagree with the FDA's and USDA's standards and think that they're unduly influence by politics and industry. Or rather, I prefer to provide a higher standard for my family than is indicated by the FDA. I'm willing to pay a little more for it.
The FDA is a joke run by whoever has the most money.
Hank the Cowdog!!!
Thanks for those comments Stacey. I've worked in those cattle feedlots in and around Hereford, Tx. It's one thing to drive by those and form and opinion and another to spend time understanding the entire process. I'm glad you have the opportunity to make the buying choice of beef. I don't agree that corn is an unnatural feed for cattle or that antibiotics are abused in beef production as many in the media today would have us believe.
I've written about these and many other topics concerning cattle production on my personal blog and I'd encourage you to take a moment to swing over and hear out a few more of my comments. Thanks! agricultureproud.com
It's not difficult, folks. Look at what's on your plate. Are you familiar with the area where a particular item was grown, and do you still live in/near that area? If so, you are "eating local."
Thanks, Ryan, for giving me a little shout out here. As you know I have also wondered about what the definition of a local farmer is. In general local farmer does and probably should mean a person who sells his wares in a small radius of where his farm is located. I would never claim to be that guy, but I do contribute to my local economy quite a bit even though you won't be buying anything directly from me. As I wrote it the past, if you want to but something I grew you can just go to any Walmart for some popcorn. http://wp.me/p1mm3B-gX
I think all farms are great. There are so many different ways to run a farm and I like to keep up with other's methods on the chance I might learn something that will better my operation. Heck, there are so many other ways I could grow corn and soybeans let alone some totally different crop or livestock.
I get what this farmer is saying, I really do. We (my husband and I) are looking at farming. Both of our families still farm. Here is the problems we notice. Where we will be moving, rural Kansas, is considered a food desert. (Meaning few grocery stores (small ones not big box) few markets) We live in Kansas! The county we are moving to is a food desert yet, it's primary source of income is through agriculture. The food most of these farmers raise is not consumable, it has to be processed into foods that really are not optimal as far as nutrition goes. (we are talking corn, soy, and wheat) The closest thing those farmers can feed their own families with is wheat, although the kind most grow, is not real great for making bread. The cattle are sent off for processing as well. The problem here is, it is a food desert and these people are primarily growing crops. By growing for big corporations, more of the farmers money goes to the corporate food producers than the farmers themselves. Then the farmer has to take what meager earnings they have (after paying for inputs and equipment) and buy from Wal-mart or fast food chains the food that they need. It is messed up that a farmer that grows crops for a living cannot feed himself from those crops. It is a shame that rural Kansas is made up of so many farmers and yet most of the state is considered a food desert. They have to ship in all of their food.
If you say Food Desert one more time....
Caryl, here's an idea: take a quarter acre of your land and plant food you can eat. A 100 foot row of green beans should yield about 45 pounds of beans, canned that would be about 90 pints. 8 globe tomato plants would probably yield over 60 quarts of canned tomatoes. Unless you live in an area where you cannot grow plants if you have land you can eat local, very local, if you choose. My "farm" consists of about 400 square feet and supplies most of the vegetables my wife and I eat all year.
I agree! Our family farms in northwest Ohio and we primarily grow corn, soybeans, and wheat. These crops grow very well in our area, and require the smallest input per unit of output than other crops that we could grow. This efficiency allows us to raise our corn, soybeans, and wheat in a more sustainable way than we could grow vegetables and other crops that our family could directly consume. However, just because we don't grow vegetables across our entire 800 acre farm doesn't mean that we don't grow vegetables. We have about a quarter acre garden in the back yard where we grow sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, peas, onions, potatoes, etc. to feed our family. By canning and freezing these vegetables, we are able to produce a good portion of our own food. We have also raised some chickens, pigs, and cattle for our own use as well. We buy what we can't produce from a grocery store, but many of those products are made from the corn, soybeans, and wheat that we produce on our 800 acres! So, even if it's indirectly, we are producing most of our own food. Don't just look at what a farmer's main crops are, because he's probably got some others for himself as well.
For many people living in 3 world areas or lower income municipalities of the US, agriculture is the only viable export they have. Should I withhold a purchase of a banana that provides for the very livelihood of people in the Caribbean and instead opt for another kind of fruit grown by semi-rural yet vaguely "local" upper-middle class hippies who do it as a hobby?
not a great point, Unless you are buying a fair trade banana, your money mostly goes to one of a few corporations, not to a person in the Carribean. However, each of us decides with our purchases what we want to support, unless we do it without thought. Just don't let others do the thinking for you.
However, each of us decides with our purchases what we want to support, unless we do it without thought. Just don't let others do the thinking for you."
Exactly. And read some stuff that pisses you off, too, in that figuring out what to think. :)
"Sometimes I wonder if America is just a country full of food snobs."
LMWAO! . . . A great line, Ryan. I know what you mean and share your sentiment.
I encourage everyone to read "The Locavore's Dilemma."
Whether local, semi-local, almost-local, quasi-local, maybe-local, nearly-local, half-local, pseudo-local, regional, state, national, federal, global, international, universal, existential, we need all types of farmers and ranchers to produce food and fiber so we humans, we exceptional human beings, may continue to sustain, to innovate, to thrive.
Keep asking yourself and others the tough questions. Sometimes an eagle needs to fly solo above the fray.
Keep in mind that nothing is new under the sun. For thousands of years, human has eaten local and decided it was not efficient. Not all of those who lived before were dumb.
I don't know... I totally get what Ryan is saying about being a little offended when someone knocks my farm's product because it's not "local". Is the meat or milk a farmer produces 2,000 miles away of less quality than the same from down the road? No. Geography doesn't actually make a product better than another and yet "local" is often a buzz word that people latch onto at the market.
I'm not at all against people who choose to buy from farmers they can meet face to face but local is a geography term not a food term.
I always want to know when I hear someone say that they only buy local foods, what is local? You can't come to our farm and buy a gallon of milk but you can come and meet me and my cows and then go to the grocery store and buy a gallon of Dean's milk that is from farms just like mine.
We all must go where the market is. We're looking at a shift central to Nashville, Louisville, Lexington with service to St Louis because of, hopefully, more effectively reaching those who seek food choices. Appreciate the mention! Appreciate, too, seeing the comments here. We can't feed an entire city, but can provide options for those who choose them!
I do buy "local" from farmers and orchards in my general area, but I am also very conscious about my other food choices. I am in OH, but try to choose foods that are in season, and/or grown in America. I try to choose OH foods, but sometimes that is just not feasible, as some things are simply not grown in this type of climate. I try to be responsible with meat/fish choices by supporting American when I can and also (due to my Celiac Disease) very cognizant of whether it is organic, GMO, farmed/wild caught and where it is coming from...as well as what is added to the food. I do try to support bakeries, farmers, butchers, orchards, etc. when possible that in my community and that is considered "local" for me. However, due to my disease (and glad our country is starting to produce more healthy and GF options for me), some items I need have to be ordered and delivered to my home as I cannot find those flours, etc. locally. And some are imported. But you shouldn't feel offended if not termed "local" by your community, as you are still an American owned business and your cattle is supporting other communities...that, my dear, is something to be proud of!
I appreciate hearing the reasons behind your choices. I'm so thankful to not have food issues, and try to be aware of those who do.
All noble ideas, but as someone who has been involved in food manufacturing for over 30 years, I can tell you it's next to impossible to know what you're buying due to ambiguity in labeling laws. True, you might be able to buy apples from a local orchard, but beyond that things get real fuzzy. For example, recently saw eggs in Columbus Ohio Whole Foods Store advertised as local....P# on end of carton corresponded to farm in PA. I also have no problem with organic as many products I purchase are organic; however, independent studies have shown no difference between organic and product grown on mega farms. It's just extremely hard for the average shopper to know products from the limited information on products
crazyvermont – this is exactly why so many people are moving towards "local." The fewer stops our food makes between farm and table, the more knowledge we have of exactly what we are putting in our bodies
The issue becomes how much can we actually buy local, which is relative little other than seasonal fruits. I purchase local primarily because I believe in small business and admire anyone going up against the mega companies; however, in reality, how much can you purchase locally other than fruits and vegetables. When it comes to meats, I purchase from companies I know have strict governmental standards as a farm fresh organic chicken for example may be contaminated from all kinds of bacteria picked up at farm
I guess I'm just lucky to live in an area where I can get a lot of what I need locally (because most of the country's food comes from within a few hundred miles of my house). I bet you would be surprised at how much you can find though if you are really willing to search for it. I can't find any meats at my local farmers market, but I can purchase them through a farm share or buy directly from a farmer nearby (which sounds like what a few of Ryan's neighbors do).
I am a dairy farmer, and am very thankful everyone doesnt just buy local. Did you know that 46% of the national ag product gets exported. If it wasnt for this ag sector especially dairy, would never be sustainable. So if we want to export our food, we must be willing to import it also. Its called free trade!!
Just say no to breast milk from a cow
Local to me means local as in, within say, 100 miles..It does not mean I do not buy products that are not available locally but I try to do as much as I can by supporting the local farmers and purchasing at the local farmers markets..it is important to me to diminish my carbon footprint as much as I can. In the summer, we grow our own garden to control the GMO's and pesticides in our food..
Thanks for taking the initiative to establish your own definition. I think it's all relative, depend on our local population density, climate, and growing seasons. It's great that you have the opportunity to garden. I always loved collecting our vegetables and eggs when I lived with my parents.
Thank you for linking to us! On our farm we sell both regionally (milk) and locally direct from farm (meat). It all comes down to economics, marketing and good business sense. Milk is highly perishable and since none us of have the skills (nor capital resources) to bottle our own, we sell it through a cooperative own by dairy farmers. If there wasn't a strong local market for our meat, we would not be trying to sell it locally. That means if consumers really want local foods they need to put their money where their mouth is and support local farmers. If they don't farmers will find other regional, national or international markets for their products. ~Emily
Ryan – it is important to remember that saying your beef isn't considered "local" is not a statement worth being offended over. A lot of the emphasis on eating local has to do with keeping one's food dollars within their own community and reducing they carbon footprint but limiting the number of miles their food travels before it arrives at their table.
By outsourcing the processing of your cattle, you have made a decision to not be local, not because you don't do business with others in your community, but because others in your community don't do (beef) business directly with you. As you said, we each make our own food decisions, and you have every right to do what is best for your business just as people have the right to do what is best for themselves and their families.
Completely agree. ~Emily
Absolutely. The "local" movement is largely about the amount of energy used to produce or ship to market. Obviously food produced elsewhere and shipped will have a larger environmental impact.
"Obvioulsy". I don't think so. I suggest you try doing the math. Distance is one of only a number of factors that determine resource consumption. It isn't even the most important factor.
well, I did the math and it still comes out that taking the product to market for 5 miles consumes fewer resources and produces less pollution that transporting it 500 hundred miles. Maybe YOU need to do some math.
Please post the results of your "math". List assumptions such as miles per gallon, energy content of diesel vs gasoline, etc.
No math to post? Fact is, you're either lying or you did the math wrong. Either way, I've posted the math here and elsewhere before. And I'd be happy to do it again after you post yours.
Also, your assumption of just 5 miles to get the product from farm to market is laughable. First, the farmer has to make a round trip. Second, most locally grown food will travel much more than 5 miles. As someone else has said, "local" aparently means within 100 miles. Counting the round trip, I'm sure 20-50 miles is more typical. And a local farmer drives back empty, while a long-haul trucker just picks up another load and goes somewhere else.
I just hate that there are not more opportunities for local farmers. There is no local meat processor or even a farmer's market unless I want to drive at least 30 miles one way. For me to support local farmers I would have to use more energy to get it, thus increasing my environmental impact.
Jennifer you bring up another issue. Sometimes even if a farmer wants to sell locally the infrastructure isn't there. In our state there are only 4 USDA inspected (needed to sell at farmers' market) poultry facilities that do custom orders for smaller farmers. If you don't live near one, you are out of luck. Consumers need to be aware of how regulations also determine the food choices available. Regulations have not made it economically feasible for many small butchering facilities. It is the chicken and egg question.
Is transportation the only thing to factor in the equation. I've read some research that suggests larger operations are more efficient with their resources, consuming less inputs to turn out more food products.
One reason my family ships cattle West, is the cost of feeding those animals. There is more food for cattle grown in other parts of the country compared to our local area. It's more efficient to ship the animals to the food than to ship all of the food to the animals.
Great thoughts here megan, and I don't disagree with you. Effectively, if consumers in our area want local beef, they need to do more to drive that demand. I bet if there was a larger number of requests, we would feed out more calves each year to sell locally. But they don't ask.
Great post, Ryan. Even working in ag, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of how national, continental, and global food really is. Thanks for the reminder/wakeup call!
Thanks Kelly. I think we all struggle to see the larger picture at times.
Like Cheech and Chong, with fields of glorious greenery.
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