Where is local?

The always-interesting Eatocracy blog has a guest post from an Arkansas farmer that raises some questions that I’ve been thinking about for a while. His family has raised cattle for generations, but because the farm ships its cattle to other states for feeding to harvest weight, and because the beef sold nationally, he says some people might not consider him a local farmer.

The knee-jerk reaction is to say that a large farm like that is not a local farm. But the thoughtfully written post made me think.

I grew up across a two-lane blacktop from a black Angus cattle farm outside Winston-Salem. The family that ran it had done so for generations. The cattle were grazed and fed in the fields. In late summer each year, crowds of fancy cars would descend on the farm – once, a helicopter even landed in the field, which was big excitement in the neighborhood – and amplified sounds of auctioneers would drift in the wind. This was decades before “eat local,” so I doubt that the obviously wealthy men were taking the beef to farmers markets. Did that make this farm, which was rooted in our community and donated land for the church up the hill, not a local farm?

What is a local farmer? And what exactly does it mean to “eat local”? Sometimes I ask people what they think “local” means, and they have different mental definitions. Some define it as being grown or produced within 50 miles of their homes, others as from within the state, while others hover everywhere in between.

Because there is no definition for local food, when a restaurant menu says its chicken or salad greens are from a local farm, you really don’t know. Unless you know the chef.

The “eat local” movement is maturing, and the question of local isn’t as obvious as it seems. We need to continue discussing it, and not exclude anyone from the table.

For me, I have mixed views. For produce, I care about freshness and flavor – which means it should be grown as close to me as possible. Also, the farther away, the more chance for some contamination as it makes its way to me. As a farmer friend says, “know your farmer, know your food.” Another point: The more centralized food production is, the more chance for catastrophe through either natural or man-made disasters, which means more small farmers.

What’s local to you?


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