Where does California Rank in Local Food Access and Why Should I Care?

April 14, 2014

Do you eat Local Food: Exploring the Locavore Index

Much of our produce in the U.S. is bred and grown to ship cross country for days at a time. The average shipping distance for produce these days is 1500 miles from farm to plate! With this type of time bouncing around on a truck, you are losing out on vital nutrients as the fruit or vegetable you are going to eat ages.

veggie basket troy - Local Food

In California, at times it seems like we are getting the best food in the country. It is fairly easy to seek out food that says “Grown in California” and marked with that USDA organic symbol. If you are able to buy food that is grown in our amazing state, that is a step in the right direction. As we preach here at StartOrganic, the further you get from the source, the less sure you are about what you are about to put in your mouth.  Knowing your farmer, seeing the farm, and growing yourself are the best ways to connect with your food and know what you are eating.  The closer it is to home, the better. The Locavore Index claims that us residents of California still have a long way to go.

How Local is “Grown in California” ?

California is a big state. 800 miles long. There is a definite difference between a strawberry from San Diego, shipped and shelved versus one from Watsonville (If you live in the Silicon Valley). There are many fruit and vegetable varieties that cannot be shipped and presentable in stores, so even the 500 mile journey from San Diego limits variety and nutrient content. Throughout the country, more and more people are looking to improve access to local food and quantitatively measure how accessible local food is to feed their community.

The Locavore Index: California Ranked at Lowly #38

The Locavore Index is a Three year old measurement of how different states rank on the ease of access to local foods. Many Californians will be shocked to see that this index has us ranked in the second half of all states coming in at number 38 (up from 42). I’m not sure if there is an east coast bias here since the study was created in Vermont, but it still is eye opening. We think of California as a progressive state, seeking the best that life has to offer and giving access to everyone, but this study seems to show that we definitely have room for improvement, especially in the local food category. I personally think that population also has to be considered, and we are are by far the most heavily populated state in the nation. So, what does this study measure?

The Components of the Index are:

Farmers markets, which are generally cooperative efforts to market locally produced food in a central location where consumers can select and purchase food from multiple farm enterprises.

CSAs (consumer-supported agriculture), which are cooperative agreements between farmers and consumers; consumers buy shares in a farm’s output, and have some say in what is grown. When crops come in, they are divided among shareholders according to the volume of their shares, and the rest may be sold at market. CSA farmers get revenue in advance to cover costs of tilling, soil preparation and seed. Shareholders get fresh produce grown locally and contribute to sustainable farming practices.

Farm-to-School programs, in which schools buy and feature locally produced, farm-fresh foods. Participating schools usually also add nutrition, culinary and food science components to their curriculum, and may experiential learning opportunities such as farm visits, school gardens and composting.

Food hubs, which are facilities that handle the aggregation, distribution and marketing of foods from a group of farms and food producers in a region. Food hubs are often cooperatively owned, though many are private enterprises.

What Should be the Takeaway?

If you look at the index and see that certain states have 100% “Farm-to-School” programs, I find that remarkable and inspiring. We should look to this study for motivation as it shows that we can always improve our own access to truly local food and our communities surely have room for new and creative local food solutions to supply that demand.

We all should have access to the freshest, most local food possible making us healthier and happier as a whole. If you are looking for your own local food solutions, please consider growing some of your own food at home (which is obviously our mission and what we feel is the optimal practice) or think about joining Burrows FarmShare in Campbell. In these ways, you will have access to the freshest foods possible and varieties that big ag would never even consider shipping across country!

For more info on the local food movement and where to purchase other local products, consider: locavores.com, caff.org, realfoodbayarea.com