Local – The “C” in CSA Stands for Community
Why is a discussion of “local” important? Local is important to consumers because it its the best way for consumers to know their farmer. Local is important to farmers because direct selling allows farmers to get better than wholesale prices while providing consumers better than retail prices. Local is important because most of the money we make is spent here in Maine, in our community. The discussion that follows is largely academic, but might be interesting. Proceed at your own peril.
The discussion of “local” just keeps going and going. I looked into Portland Buy Local for their interpretation. Basically what they are saying is that, to be “local”, the business must reside within the Portland city limits and all the owners must reside within a 50 mile radius of Portland. Their application form shows other requirements that are important to this group. It is interesting to note that the Portland Farmers’ Market is one of their members even though many of the participants are from well outside of the Portland Buy Local definition and, in past years, some sell product from out of state. This is not to say that this is wrong, it simply “is.”
I then looked at Whole Foods and their interpretation. They consider local to be anything that travels for less than 7 hours by car or truck. By this definition local includes product from as far away as Pennsylvania and Ontario.
Next I looked at Maine’s own Locally Known; now defunct. These guys must know what local is, right? Hell they’ve got “local” right in their name. Well, it turns out, according to their web site, “local” is salad greens grown as far away as Arizona and Florida. So, their definition of local is 3,000 miles from Maine.
Next I went to Eliot Coleman, who I hold in the highest regard. On his Four Season Farm site he takes a slightly different approach and uses the word “Authentic” to differentiate what a lot of us are doing from both “local” and “organic.” This approach considers, not just the distance, but the properties of the food. For Eliot, “Fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs and meat products are produced within a 50-mile radius of their place of their final sale. The seed and storage crops (grains, beans, nuts, potatoes, etc.) are produced within a 300-mile radius of their final sale.” I like this approach. This feels right to me. Eliot’s interpretation has an historical basis in that this is how things were done before refrigeration and transportation made the world as small and unsustainable as it has now become.
For a lot of people this is a state of Maine imperative. I google mapped it. The driving distance from Kittery to Madawaska is 383 miles. This meets Whole Foods (almost) and falls well within the limit for Locally Known, but does not meet many of the other definitions. I then found that the driving distance from Kittery to Philadelphia, PA is only 360 miles. So, if you live in Kittery, Philly is more local than Madawaska.
For a lot of us the goal has been to build community and to be able to supply fresh, perishable food to people in our immediate community. This has really been more of a practical logistical definition for us since we can’t grow more food than that on 8 valuable and highly taxed acres in Freeport. We have always supplemented the fresh greens we produce all winter for our winter CSA with Maine potatoes from outside our definition of local because others do it so well and cost effectively. Our CSA members understand and support this position.
As I said at the start this post, the definition of “local” is fraught with peril. Tom Roberts of Snake Root Farm is correct in pointing out that the size of a given producer tends to match them with a type of market. Eliot is also correct that the type of product lends it self to longer or shorter distances from market. If the goal is a secure supply of fresh perishable produce from someone you know while conserving dwindling open spaces and farmland, then it seems obvious to me that the answer should be fresh perishable produce from a family owned farm in your home community.
So what, exactly, is local? You need to decide on your own definition. If you’ve read this far, you are probably a person who thinks about their food and about where they spend their money. We gave you a lot of “food for thought.” You can decide where the food you buy comes from.