Graphic credit: Strolling of the Heifers
By Brandon Baker
Originally published in EcoWatch.
The push for more people to buy and eat locally produced foods keeps growing, but which states are actually practicing what they preach?
For the third consecutive year, Strolling of the Heifers answers that question with its 2014 Locavore Index. The rankings take the per-capita number of farmers markets, consumer-supported agriculture operations (CSAs) and food hubs into account, along with the percentage of school districts with active farm-to-school programs.
Strolling of the Heifers couldn’t deny the evidence right in front of its Vermont headquarters, ranking its own state first for the third year in a row.
Hawaii made an eight-spot jump from last year to enter the top five, while Maryland made the biggest improvement, moving from 29 to 14. Nebraska, South Dakota and Kentucky each took tumbles of at least 10 places in the past year.
“This ranking reflects the commitment Vermonters have made to community based agriculture,” Chuck Ross, Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets, said in a statement. “From the farm and food system entrepreneurs who are providing local foods, to the schools and institutions that are stepping up to integrate local foods, to the individual Vermonters who are making healthy, local choices, our state has embraced a systems approach to agriculture.”
While the organization is thrilled to present its findings, Strolling the Heifers personnel would certainly welcome some company in reporting statistics associated with locavorism.
“For all the attention that locavorism has received in recent years, reliable and consistent state-by-state statistics on local food consumption are hard to come by,” Strolling of the Heifers founder and Executive Director Orly Munzing said. “If we all agree that growing, buying and eating local foods is good, then we need to do a better job of measuring it.”
With its rankings, Strolling of the Heifers also included its top 10 reasons to consume local foods:
- Supports local farms: Buying local food keeps local farms healthy and creates local jobs at farms and in local food processing and distribution systems.
- Boosts local economy: Food dollars spent at local farms and food producers stay in the local economy, creating more jobs at other local businesses.
- Less travel: Local food travels much less distance to market than typical fresh or processed grocery store foods, therefore using less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gases.
- Less waste: Because of the shorter distribution chains for local foods, less food is wasted in distribution, warehousing and merchandising.
- More freshness: Local food is fresher, healthier and tastes better, because it spends less time in transit from farm to plate, and therefore loses fewer nutrients and incurs less spoilage.
- New and better flavors: A commitment to buy local encourages people to discover new fruits and vegetables, new ways to prepare food, and promotes a better appreciation of the pleasure of each season’s foods.
- Good for the soil: Local food encourages diversification of local agriculture, which reduces the reliance on monoculture—single crops grown over a wide area to the detriment of soils.
- Attracts tourists: Local foods promote agritourism—farmers markets and opportunities to visit farms and local food producers help draw tourists to a region.
- Preserves open space: Buying local food helps local farms survive and thrive, keeping land from being redeveloped into suburban sprawl.
- Builds more connected communities: Local foods create more vibrant communities by connecting people with the farmers and food producers who bring them healthy local foods. As customers of CSAs and farmers markets have discovered, they are great places to meet and connect with friends as well as farmers.