Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Defining "local"

When a person begins to source his or her food more locally, a question comes up: what is local?

People in the Bay Area of California often use a 100-mile circle as their definition of local, tempting others to use a similar definition. You would do pretty well with that definition in St. Louis -- there are several produce farms in Southern Illinois. Farrar Out farm where I get my eggs and chicken just fits inside that circle. But you would miss out on Ozark Forest Mushrooms and Sandhill Farm sorghum. I've found that I'm willing to use the 100-mile circle on the Illinois side, but I prefer to use the entire state of Missouri on this side of the Mississippi River. Among other reasons, that puts me in a kind of partnership with state programs like AgriMissouri.

Farmers Market purchases sound like they would all be local. But, for example, Summit Farms at the Kirkwood Farmers Market is more of a distributor, selling lots of California produce alongside locally grown produce in season. It's generally very good quality produce no matter where it comes from. I learned recently that if it weren't for Summit, the Kirkwood Farmers Market wouldn't be sustainable, so I'm grateful they are there. However, for my One Local Summer meals, I will do more of my shopping at some of the other booths.

I buy grains, including flour, and beans from Kimker Hill Farm at the Tower Grove Market. They don't grow all of the items that they mill or package, but Denise says she sources them as close as she can get. Since she is my only source for locally milled flour, I'm going to consider that close enough. Plus, I love her blog since it lets me know what to expect at her booth each Saturday.

If you're eating local meat, do you care what the animals eat? Do you want them on a 100-mile diet, too? Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food, convinced me that meat and dairy products are healthier for me if the animals are pastured. But, at the moment, I seem to have a choice between buying butter from pastured cows in Wisconsin or from cows who eat grain from who knows where, but do it in Missouri. Which is better? For One Local Summer meals, I'll use the butter from Missouri cows, but for some of my other meals, I'll probably choose the pastured butter.

People who have been buying organic for years sometimes have trouble switching to local foods because they suddenly have to choose between those two values -- do you buy organic apples or do you buy local apples that are not organic? Many small farms use organic practices, but they don't go through the considerable bother and expense to be certified organic. But, of course, that's not true for all local farms, and particularly not apple orchards in this region.

In the end, though, I find it really doesn't matter how I answer these questions. What matters is that I asked them and thought about the answers. That, in itself, has made a huge difference in how I think about my food and who produces it.


Debbie said...

I have a similar approach. I pretty much include the state of Iowa as "local", plus well into Illinois and Missouri (and possibly even Wisconsin if I needed to), since I'm near the eastern border of Iowa. Most of my local stuff is within 100 miles anyway, but sometimes "not trucked across the country" may have to do. For the OLS meals, though, it's always within 100 miles (with the exception of the spices, oil, and similar stuff). The rest of the time, I'm flexible.

holly said...

i've been thinking about this a lot recently as well, and i think what it boils down to is not beating ourselves up for every little ingredient, but asking the questions and doing the best we can from our choices (and taking the time to find out what our choices really Are). if we can even get Half of our food from within 100 miles, what a difference that will make-and a larger portion of people will see our example and join us! when it's not so stringent i think more people will be encouraged that they too, can make a change. thanks for your thoughts-it's great to see others earnestly seeking the answers to this question.

Lori said...

This has been on my mind lately as well. Your definition is much like my own - southwest Illinois and pretty much all of Missouri count as local for me. We currently buy Oberweiss milk because it's hormone and antibiotic free, comes from family owned farms, and is available in refillable glass bottles. Unfortunately it comes from Wisconsin or thereabouts, so we may look for a more local or organic source at some point.

For now, my philosophy is to look for food that is: humanely raised (this can include humane treatment of animals and of workers), locally produced, sustainably raised, produced on a small-farm, and/or certified organic. I have no idea whether this is the "right" order, but at least it helps me make choices that make sense for me.

Joy said...

Thanks, all. I've been counting Oberweiss as local, but I thought their farms were closer. I know they had one in Washington, MO, for awhile.

Tamar said...

Hi there, Joy, I just found your blog via the OLS discussion board. I am just at the beginning of thinking about all this and your response really hit home for me. You are very right, I have made so many changes just by starting to thinking through the issues, well before the "definitive" answer comes to me. (Not that I'm letting myself off the hook!)