What is the Big Deal About Local Food?

Everywhere you go, food is promoted as “local.” Even giant supermarkets push their “local” products. What's the big deal here?

According to the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture, between 2007 and 2012, there was an 8 per cent increase in sales of direct-to-consumer farm products and a 6 per cent increase in the number of farms making those sales. That means that demand for products directly from the farm—local food—has increased, and farms are responding.

Food co-ops generally source more items locally than supermarkets do. Why the increased demand? What is so great about local food? Why do co-ops sell so much of it? And what is it, anyway?

There is no universally accepted definition of “local.” Many people define it as coming from within 100 miles of their location. Sharon Hoyer, General Manager of the Dill Pickle Food Co-op in Chicago, says, We call anything that is grown or produced within 150 miles of the store 'local.'” But every food co-op creates its own definition.

Hoyer says, regarding the benefits of local sourcing, “The most immediate one people identify with is having some transparency of where their food is coming from. Farmers markets are a perfect example: You can go and meet the person who grew the food or made the goods. You can ask them about their practices, get a little insight as to how the food is grown, how it reaches you, and their side of things.”

The economic benefits of local sourcing are pretty straightforward. Money that stays in a community circulates more times and brings benefits to more members of the community. In the case of local food, that money first goes to local farmers. If you are able to buy at a food co-op, the money spent there on local products also helps the co-op to thrive. Both farmers and co-op then spend the money again in the local area. Everyone in the community wins.

One of the biggest reasons to buy local food, though, is flavor. Food that hasn't spent weeks in a boxcar or warehouse is fresher and better tasting than conventional food. Also, small, local farms can afford to grow a variety of unusual and heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables. These can bring new and interesting flavors to your table.

The list of local food benefits goes on. There are environmental benefits. There is the benefit of greater food security. Pick your reason, and then enjoy some local food from your local food co-op.

Dill Pickle Food Co-op, currently the only food co-op in the city of Chicago, offers healthy food choices and the benefits of cooperative practice to build a vibrant local community and more sustainable world.

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