How Local Food Can Enrich a Community

Three home grown success stories

| May/June 2002

Not so long ago, we knew where most of our food came from: out of the garden, or from farmers in the region. But now the ingredients of our suppers are likely to travel thousands of miles to reach our tables. Not just tropical delights like bananas, coffee, and tea—we’re shipping even the basics: potatoes, tomatoes (even in season), meats, and greens, not to mention boxed and canned goods.

While we’ve come to expect all foods to be available year round, the costs of this diet are staggeringly high. Consider heavy chemical use on distant megafarms, the nutrition and taste lost during long-distance travel, and the amount of fuel burned along the way.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Contrary to what food industry advertising says—marketers now receive 67 percent of profits in the food business while farmers receive 9 percent—people all around the world are returning to eating food grown near home. In his book Going Local (Routledge, 2000), Washington policy analyst Michael Shuman points out that some "800 million people in the world who live in cities are engaged in urban agriculture, mainly for their own consumption." One in five residents of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania’s capital, work as farmers. Two-thirds of the poultry and close to half the vegetables eaten by Hong Kong citizens are produced within the city limits.

Local food is also regaining its rightful place as the center of local econo-mies in the United States. Shuman points out that the growing demand for local fruits and vegetables in the San Francisco Bay Area has expanded the region’s agricultural economy by 61 percent over the past decade. That’s translated into $915 million of agricultural income added to the local economy each year.

Following are some of the brightest ideas in the local food movement.

Athens, Ohio