When it comes to offering citizens local foods, state governments show drastically different levels of commitment. While some states generate opportunities for residents to buy local foods in farmers markets and help students enjoy healthier lunches through various programs, many states lag behind this important trend.
For the last four years, a Vermont-based local food advocacy group called Strolling for the Heifers has ranked each state and DC on their commitment to local foods. The 2015 Locavore Index places Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Massachusetts, in the top 5 while at the very bottom are Louisiana, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas.
Analyzing the Numbers
In order for the states to rank on their commitment to local foods, the Vermont-based food advocacy group looked at the number of farmers markets, the amount of CSAs or community supported agriculture, the number of food hubs plus the percentage of the state’s school districts that actively have a Farm-to-School program. This is all analyzed on a per capita basis and includes new information from the Census of Agriculture providing an even more detailed look into the local governments’ commitment to local food.
Various state and federal programs are having a positive influence on the amount of local food produced and consumed. The federal Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative provides grants to help schools serve locally grown foods plus helps promote farmers’ markets. Many states also have similar initiatives which help local farmers get the support they need to provide healthier and more wholesome food to local residents on a sustainable and consistent basis.
Governments Save Money by Improving Diets
The health of residents is a top priority for local governments. When the population is healthier, costs are reduced and people are happier. Since the medical cost of obesity costs America $147 billion each year, finding a solution that helps improve people’s diets can have a huge impact on budgets and the community.
Investing in local food can also create a positive economic impact for the state. When state governments purchase foods for schools, jails, day cares, or even the vending machines on government properties, they have a choice of buying local. When they buy local, the state government strengthens the local food chain networks bringing jobs and more income to the area.
Research also shows that when residents get access to local foods, they often have more appealing and fresher options. Since the produce did not travel far it retains more nutrients and gives the local residents better sources of vitamins and minerals. Additionally, if an imported food source undergoes a shortage or disaster, strong local food systems can give residents security and continued access to fresh foods.
Why the Government Stopped Buying Local
Throughout the last century, there have been several government bills that essentially industrialized the production of food in America. In the beginning of the last century, the USDA introduced a grading system which reduced the amount of spoiled food arriving in distant markets, but also reduced the amount of ripe produce available in the local stores.
After World War II, the Farm Bill aimed to provide high quality food at a low cost for Americans. The objective was achieved but decimated the local and fresh food network chains. In order to scale food production and get lower prices, local fruit, poultry, dairy farms, and meat processing centers were replaced with large centralized facilities. When the amount of disposable income spent on food is compared from 1946 to 2008, the goal of providing cheap food was certainly achieved. Americans spent 21.6% of their disposable income on food in 1946 and only 9.6% in 2008. But at what cost?
While prices were lowered and food production was revved up, the local farmers who produce fresh, nutritious foods struggled to compete. But now as local governments aim to enhance their local food networks by increasing their commitment to local foods, a resurgence is coming.
Benefits of Locally Grown Food
As local governments continue to face health and economic problems, buying local food provides a strong solution. Not only will local populations get access to fresher produce, the farmers and those part of the supply chain will experience economic growth. This will lead to more local jobs and a boost in the economy.
Although local foods are not synonymous with sustainable foods, supporting the production and sale of foods locally will reduce the environmental impact of transporting the goods. Additionally, local governments should continue to support farmers’ markets and sustainable solutions that can not only strengthen the local community but offer health and economic benefits.
Do you feel the government is committed to local foods? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.