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November 18, 2004

Buy Local Goes National

Act locally becomes more than just a slogan.

A few years ago the local farmers in my area, western Massachusetts, started a great marketing campaign. “ Be a Local Hero, Buy Locally Grown” urged consumers to buy local produce rather than food shipped from California or abroad. It was refreshing to see locally committed farmers taking their case to the public in an appealing way.

The idea seems to be catching on. A group called FoodRoutes Network is working with ten community-based nonprofits around the country to try to boost regional markets for locally grown food. Each is developing a “Buy Local” marketing campaign to bring community farmers and consumers together.

The new initiatives complement work by other “buy local” pioneers such as The White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia. Judy Wicks, the founder of The White Dog, has long made it a point to buy from local organic family farms. She also has created special events like the Farmers’ Sunday Supper and the Dance of the Ripe Tomatoes to educate its staff and customers, and founded the Philadelphia Fair Food Project to build links between sustainable farmers and Philadelphia-area restaurants and food purveyors.

Advocates of local produce make some points (taken here from FoodRoutes) that are worth remembering:

  • Buying local food keeps your dollars circulating in your community. Getting to know the farmers who grow your food builds relationships based on understanding and trust.
  • Only about 10% of the fossil fuel energy used in the world’s food system is used in production; the other 90% goes into packaging, transportation, and marketing.
  • Local, traditional livestock operations can operate under more sanitary conditions than factory farms without inputs like antibiotics because animals may be raised on grass in less concentrated population.
  • Farmers in 2002 earned their lowest real net cash income since 1940. Meanwhile corporate agribusiness profits have nearly doubled since 1990 (USDA, 2002).