Cafeteria Management Insights

The “Eat Local” Food Movement

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The “Eat Local” Food Movement

The definition of the term “Eat Local” is inconsistent at best. For some, it means eating food that is grown within 25 miles of their home. A 50 or 100 mile radius fits the definition for others and there are some who believe any food grown within the borders of the United States should be considered local because it is not imported from another country.

In 2008 Congress passed H.R. 2419 which amended the “Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act”. In the amendment, “locally” and “regionally” are grouped together and are defined as (1) the locality or region in which the final product is marketed so that the total distance the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product, or (2) the state in which the product is produced.

Although we have become accustomed to the availability of Global foods and life without them might mean giving up some everyday favorites such as coffee and bananas which are grown globally, or strawberries and tomatoes grown in another part of the country in the winter months, it is important to acknowledge that we pay a price in quality, cost and taste. A Global food item picked from a field before it has reached ripeness, sent to a processor, then on to a shipper where it is ripened during transport en route to a retailer (often with questionable gasses), and finally on to your table has lost something in the process. The greater the distance between the grower and the consumer, means the greater the cost of the product and the greater the loss of taste, freshness and quality of the food. If you buy only organic, organic foods are still ripened artificially in transportation vehicles on the way to a retailer, undoing many of the benefits of healthy organic methods of growing.

There is a growing belief that eating locally is now healthier than eating organic. A local farm that uses organic practices provides the best nutritional food source.  In general, the closer to home food is grown the fresher and more nutritious it is. Consider the taste difference between a grocery store tomato purchased in the middle of the winter and one just freshly picked from a farm stand. It almost seems as though it is a completely different food. As more and more consumers become health conscious and demand better food quality, “Farm to Table” and “Eat Local” have become popular buzz words and the movement is rapidly growing.

Locally Grown FoodFarm stands and farmer’s markets have sprung up in cities and towns across the country and have become a popular place to purchase locally grown healthy food on a weekly or daily basis. Some farms have “Pick you own” fields allowing you to pick berries, apples, peas, beans and other produce where you can pay by weight. You can’t get any fresher food than picked from the field with your own hands and brought directly to your table. Farm stands and “Pick you own” fields are also a great way to teach children where their food comes from.

Buying and eating locally benefits the local economy, supports farmers and enables them to successfully nurture their farming businesses and continue to provide healthy food for their communities. Some successful farming operations sell directly to consumers through farmers markets and also to local restaurants, schools, hospitals and other institutions making it easy to purchase healthy locally grown food throughout the community. Café Services, Inc. participates in these programs where it can. Additionally, in an effort to compete with the popularity of local farm stands and farmers markets, some grocery stores have partnered with local farmers to purchase locally grown products to sell in their stores.

Buying local fosters a sense of community. If you buy from the same farmer routinely, you get to know the farmer personally, become familiar with the products they offer, have a chance to ask about their farming philosophy and methods and develop a sense of trust and friendship. As for the farmer, he has an opportunity to know his customers product preferences and grow what his customers want. It has been proven that a seller who knows his customers on a personal level provides better service and is more concerned about the quality of the product offered to those he considers friends and loyal customers. A local farmer wants to keep his customers happy. The local connection benefits both farmer and consumer.

Eating locally grown food often means eating seasonally. Some people find this limiting as some foods have short growing seasons or are not available in the winter months. Although, as the Spring Season is eagerly anticipated and celebrated in northern climates after a long, cold winter, the first taste of a much anticipated locally grown food is that much better because it is not available year round. Food festivals celebrating particular foods abound across the country as anticipated seasonal foods become available. A crisp apple just picked from a tree in an apple orchard on a Fall Day in October or the first blueberry of the season might not have the same appeal if it were available any time of the year.

In response to the limited seasonal availability of fresh foods, farmers have begun to sell local produce at winter farmer’s markets. Many farmers have added greenhouses to their farms and grow vegetables year round. Hydroponic growing is a new trend, growing vegetables in water rather than soil in a greenhouse. Some of the products offered at winter farmers markets are locally raised meats, locally caught fish, eggs, milk, root vegetables, maple syrup, greenhouse grown lettuces and vegetables as well as homemade baked goods. Some farm stands have been winterized, have partnered with local fishermen, meat ranchers, poultry farmers, bee keepers, and bakers to offer fresh food year round.

Although it would be difficult for your year round diet to consist of only foods locally grown, the benefits of eating available foods grown locally are too numerous to ignore. Healthy nutritious foods ripened in the field, locally raised beef and poultry, eggs, milk, cheese and butter from humanely treated animals fed chemical free diets, honey from local hives are just a few of the many healthy foods available in local areas. Supporting your local farmers, contributing to the local economy and putting the most nutritious, fresh and best tasting food on your table is a win/win situation for all concerned.

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