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Next Generation Farming

What is Local Food?

New-age consumers love the idea of local food but don't seem to grasp how to define it.

Local food is all the rage right now. But I'm a little confused on just how exactly to define local.

Once when I was in a Whole Foods store in Chicago, I stumbled upon a booth giving out free samples of a granola bar made entirely from locally grown products. I have to say it tasted great. In fact, I helped myself to a second when the girl behind the counter wasn't looking.

After I walked off with my second sample, the question hit me. Just what exactly is "local" supposed to mean?

Last I knew there weren't many farmers making a living in downtown Chicago. So, I went back and asked her, and she pointed to the map that encompassed the "local" region where the food came from. 

According to the Whole Foods branch I visited in Chicago, local means the entire 12 northern Midwestern states, extending from Kansas all the way to Ohio.

Living in Chicago at the time, I hardly considered my home state of Kansas to be local – especially when it took a 15-hour drive across Illinois, Iowa and Missouri to get there.

Based on their reasoning, if a 15-hour drive is considered local, then whatever we grow on our farm in Kansas could also be marketed as local in Las Vegas just as well as it could in Chicago. Both are the same distance, but I don't think too many of us in Lane County, Kan., would consider either Chicago or Las Vegas as "local" markets.

Nonetheless, that's how loosely consumers are willing to define it.

Local could mean anything as long as it falls under a certain way of thinking.  According to this article in Choices magazine, it's pretty much whatever you want it to be as long as it's not produced by a huge multinational food corporation or made by using modern production methods.

Based on the definition in the New York Times, "local" is a broad philosophical viewpoint that eschews large farms, chemicals and confined feeding operations.

So as a locavore would conclude, selling grain sorghum to a feedlot a few miles down the road from your farm is not considered doing business in a local market. But shopping at Whole Foods to buy a head of lettuce that was grown 500 miles away is. That's some interesting reasoning.

Kind of like the time in high school when I wrecked my car and told my parents it was only scratched. The word "scratched," of course, wasn't a lie or an exaggeration. It was just part of a broader philosophical viewpoint.

They're still not buying it.

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