Buying locally-grown food keeps money within a community and provides local jobs. This contributes to the health of all sectors of the local economy, increasing the local quality of life. In a community that produces its own food, consumers are able to influence how their food is grown.
According to the USDA, .01% of all the food consumed in the United States is purchased locally. That’s very little and shows just how deeply embedded the industrial food system has become in our society. Almost 100% of Americans are eating food that is transported long distances using large quantities of fossil fuels, and not fresh enough for optimum nutrition. They are also eating herbicides and pesticides along with their food.
On the North Olympic Peninsula we are doing quite a bit better. 4% of our population purchases local food, double the rate in 2002. The North Olympic Peninsula is a leader in local, organic food consumption by many orders of magnitude. But if 4% of the population buys locally, 96% do not. We still have a long way to go.
About $150 million is spent each year on food on the North Olympic Peninsula. If we were to increase the percentage of buyers of local food, our economy would be greatly strengthened and its sustainability increased. More of that $150 million would stay in our community, increasing local hires, and helping to preserve local farmland. Most importantly, more individuals would benefit from fresher, healthier and more delicious food, lowering our health care costs.
When you buy food locally you reduce energy consumption. Purchasing local food means that you're closer to its original source and can be confident that it's fresher than overseas products. You're also taking a stand against the air miles and carbon emissions that an overseas product would have clocked up. Locally-produced foods do not require significant transportation or storage, both of which are very energy-intensive and pollute air and water.
The average bite in the U.S. travels 1,500 miles to reach your plate. The average bite purchased from a local producer travels about 54 miles.
Read more: Government and Public Affairs Division, Policy Research Paper, "Follow That French Fry: Food Miles and Roadway Damage."
The United States has always been an export-oriented, commodity-producing nation. As colonies, we exploited the land for commodities to send to the mother country. Now we "export" to ourselves, shipping products long distances to markets all over the nation. Sustainability is not a consideration in this system-only profitability is. The conventional food system today externalizes its costs and it is rewarded for it.
Cheap energy makes it all possible. It is the foundation of globalization but it cannot last forever. Moving food around is too costly. It has always been too costly to the environment and to our long-term health.
If consumers want to live a more "sustainable" life, with the capacity to endure in the very long term, they need to focus on what's available close to where they live. They also need to understand why it's important. Here are some global facts about food:
|*||Rice, corn, wheat, and potatoes make up more than 1/2 of what humans eat.|
|*||The world's population is almost 7 billion. Feeding that population requires 40% of the earth's land surface and massive distribution and transportation systems.|
|*||Today, 17% of all U.S. transportation use is dedicated to food distribution.|
Because Nash's Organic Produce is located in Clallam County, we focus on Clallam County's "food-sustainability." About 4% of the food consumed on the North Olympic Peninsula is grown here (Clallam and Jefferson Counties) according to Dr. Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Center. 96-97% of food in our immediate community comes here in trucks that get about 5 miles/gallon.
Can Clallam County become food sustainable? Probably not.
Take wheat for example:
|*||The average American citizen eats about 1/4 lb. wheat per day in several forms (bread, noodles, cereal, cookies, etc.)|
|*||Clallam County (pop. 75,000) eats 19,000 lbs. of wheat per day or 9.5 tons.|
|*||A great wheat yield is 3 tons/acre. A more realistic yield is 2.5. We need 3.75 acres per day or 1,370 acres per year devoted just to wheat to meet Clallam County's wheat needs.|
|*||The Agricultural Retention Zone designated by the Washington State Growth Management Act of 1994 was 6,000 acres. Today 4,200 acres remain for agriculture. The rest has become residential development.|
|*||More than 1/4 of those remaining acres would have to be used just for wheat to make Clallam County food-sustainable in that product alone.|
97% of the food consumed in Clallam County comes from outside, and food and fuel costs are now linked because of transporting food long distances and because about 1/3 of the U.S. corn crop is used to create ethanol for fueling cars.
|*||It costs the U.S. $17 billion per year to move food around.|
|*||Average bite travels about 1,500 miles between producer/processor and consumer.|
|*||385 semi-trucks of produce leave the Salinas Valley in CA every day. It cost the trucker $2,000 one way to get a load to Seattle in fuel alone when diesel is $4/gallon. Is this a sustainable system?|