Why are local/regional food systems important?


The following text was borrowed/used from www.sustainabletable.org


"What is a "food system"?


"Food systems comprise all aspects of food production (the way the food is grown or raised; the way the food is harvested or slaughtered; and the way the food is processed, packaged, or otherwise prepared for consumer purchase) and food distribution (where and how the food is sold to consumers and how the food is transported). Food systems can be divided into two major types: the global industrial food system, of which there is only one, and sustainable/local (or regional) food systems, of which there are many. The global industrial food system has a much wider geographic reach than a local or regional food system.  


What is a "local (or regional) food system"?


The term "local food system" (or "regional food system") is used to describe a method of food production and distribution that is geographically localized, rather than national and/or international. Food is grown (or raised) and harvested close to consumers' homes, then distributed over much shorter distances than is common in the conventional global industrial food system. In general, local/regional food systems are associated with sustainable agriculture, while the global industrial food system is reliant upon industrial agriculture.  


What is local? What is regional?


Commonly, "local food" refers to food produced near the consumer (i.e., food grown or raised within X miles of a consumer).  However, because there is no universally agreed-upon definition for the geographic component of what "local" or "regional" means, consumers are left to decide what local and regional food means to them. A 2008 survey found that half of consumers surveyed described "local" as "made or produced within a hundred miles" (of their homes), while another 37% described "local" as "made or produced in my state."  The ability to eat "locally" also varies depending on the production capacity of the region in question: people living in areas that are agriculturally productive year-round may have an easier time sourcing food that is grown or raised 100 miles (or even 50 miles) from their homes than those in arid or colder regions, whose residents may define "local food" in a more regional context.


"Supporting local/regional food systems helps support local, sustainably run farms, can help protect our health and the health of our communities, and helps stimulate local economies. We outline some of reasons why local/regional food systems are important below:


Sustainability

Local food systems rely upon a network of small, usually sustainably run, family farms (rather than large industrially run farms) as the source of farm products.   Industrial farming negatively impacts the environment in myriad ways (e.g., by polluting the air, surface water, and groundwater, over-consuming fossil fuel and water resources, degrading soil quality, inducing erosion, and accelerating the loss of biodiversity ).  Industrial agriculture also adversely affects the health of farm workers, degrades the socioeconomic fabric of surrounding communities, and impairs the health and quality of life of community residents.  In addition, although the concept of "food miles" (i.e., the number of miles a food item travels from farm to consumer) has been criticized as an unreliable indicator of the environmental impact of industrially produced food, it should be noted that conventional food is estimated to typically travel between 1,500 and 3,000 miles to reach the consumer and usually requires additional packaging and refrigeration.  Many small-scale, local farms attempt to ameliorate the environmental damage done via industrial farming by focusing on sustainable practices, such as minimized pesticide use, no-till agriculture and composting, minimized transport to consumers, and minimal to no packaging for their farm products.  


Food Safety, Health, and Nutrition

As production networks in the conventional food system have become increasingly consolidated, and as distribution networks have become increasingly globalized, the risk of food safety problems, such as foodborne illness, has also increased. The consolidation of meat and produce production, including animal slaughter and processing, means that there are more possibilities of improper processing, handling, or preparation affecting vast quantities of food (and subsequently consumers). Recent multi-state outbreaks affecting hundreds of people have been traced to individual farms, food processing facilities, and even individual food handlers. When a small amount of contamination (e.g., bacteria) enters these consolidated production systems, vast quantities of the food product being processed and distributed nationally (or globally) may be affected due to the sheer volume of food being produced. This risk is heightened by weak food safety standards, inadequate food safety inspection procedures, and in the case of meat production, the trend toward increasingly rapid line speeds at industrial processing facilities. Tracing outbreaks of foodborne illnesses also becomes more difficult because the production and distribution of conventional food products, such as ground beef, often involves multiple farms, food processors, and food distributors. The distribution of these food products over vast geographical areas further complicates the capability to quickly track an outbreak.  

In addition, higher yielding plant varieties suitable for industrial production and international travel have come at the expense of nutrition.  The global industrial food system relies on crops that have been bred primarily for higher yield and ease of transport, while farmers involved in local food systems often place a higher value on plant varietals that are more nutritious by virtue of their variety (i.e., not bred for yield alone) or by their method of production.  Local, sustainably produced farm fruits and vegetables are often fresher, as they do not require long distances for transport, and thus can be harvested closer to peak ripeness. Many fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients when allowed to ripen naturally on the parent plant.  Meat from animals raised sustainably on pasture is also more nutritious - for example, grass-fed beef is higher in "good" cholesterol (and lower in "bad"), higher in vitamins A and E, lower in fat, and contains more antioxidants than factory farmed beef.  Sustainably produced food also means less (or no) agricultural chemicals (such as pesticides), antibiotics,  and hormones, all of which are common in conventional farm products.


Food Security

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that "food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life."  Local food systems may help improve food security by making local, fresh food available to populations with limited access to healthful food; this is especially salient as more farmers' markets accept food stamps (or the equivalent). 


Support Local Economies and Protect Local Farms and Farmland

Evidence indicates that local food systems support local economies;  for example, farmers' markets positively affect the business surrounding them, while also providing significant sources of income for local farmers, thus maintaining the viability of many small, local farms.  Unlike large industrial farms, small family farms are more likely to spend their dollars in the community on farm-related inputs (e.g., machinery, seeds, farm supplies, etc.); in addition, food grown locally, processed locally, and distributed locally (for example, to local restaurants) generates jobs and subsequently helps stimulate local economies.  

In 1959, there were 4,105,000 farms in the United States, while the latest US farm census in 2011 recorded only 2,200,000 farms. In the last 50 years, though the number of farms has shrunk, the size of the farms still in existence has grown tremendously, which demonstrates the consolidation and industrialization of US agriculture.  Local food systems help preserve farmland by providing small family farms a viable outlet through which to sell their farm products. In addition, the creation of relationships between farmers and their urban/suburban customers through direct-to-consumer markets can help preserve farmland as protecting family farms becomes a shared goal for both farmers and their local consumers.


Sustainable/Local Food Distribution

Local food production-distribution networks often start on smaller, sustainable family farms. Farm products are transported over shorter geographic distances, generally processed either on the farm itself, or with smaller processors. Sustainable/local food distribution networks rely on two primary markets: the direct-to-consumer market and the direct-to-retail, foodservice, and institution market.

The Direct-to-Consumer Market

The direct-to-consumer market is currently the most established sector of local food distribution. Direct-to-consumer means that all middlemen are cut out of the food distribution equation - farmers sell their products directly to consumers, rather than through third parties, such as grocery stores. Common direct-to-consumer operations include:

  • Farmers' Markets
    Farmers' markets are communal spaces in which multiple farmers gather to sell their farm products directly to consumers. Farmers' markets may be municipally or privately managed and may be seasonal or year-round. Farmers may have to pay a vendor's (or other similar) fee to participate, and must usually transport their own farm products to the farmers' market site. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the number of farmers' markets in the US increased from 1,755 in 1994 to 7,175 in 2011.  
  • Community Supported Agriculture
    Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) are direct-to-consumer programs in which consumers buy a "share" of a local farm's projected harvest. Consumers are often required to pay for their share of the harvest up front; this arrangement distributes the risks and rewards of farming amongst both consumers and the farmer. CSA participants often pick up their CSA shares in a communal location, or the shares may be delivered directly to customers. The USDA estimates that there may be as many as 2,500 CSAs currently operating in the US.  
  • Other Direct to Consumer Programs
    A much smaller proportion of the direct-to-consumer market are options such as pick-your-own farms, on-site farm stands and stores, and gleaning programs, in which consumers are invited to harvest crops that are left in fields, usually after harvest.

The Direct to Retail, Foodservice, and Institution Market

A growing component of local food systems are programs that provide farm products directly to retail, foodservice, and institutions. These types of programs cut out the (usually corporate) middlemen involved in storing, processing, and/or transporting food destined for grocery (and other retail) stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and other institutions.  

Direct to retail, foodservice, and institution programs may involve farmers delivering farm products directly to these establishments, or may rely upon a "food hub," which is a centralized location where many farmers drop off their farm products for distribution amongst multiple establishments."


GRACE Communications Foundation215 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10016 United States Tel: 212 726 9161(c) 2014 GRACE Communications Foundation


How You Can Be Involved   

Micro Mama's and your CSA can partner to create healthy local lacto-fermented vegetables for year round consumption.  Any local farmer or CSA can grow the vegetables we use, thereby extending the life of the produce. Micro Mama's extends your offerings/season in addition to supplementing your established CSA share(s).  Some farmers who do not have CSAs sell our vegetable blends in their farm store, market or stand.  

One of our blends CINNAMON GIRL was created to help use a 2000 pound surplus of turnip/rutabaga grown by the Vegetable Ranch in Warner.  We are happy to create custom blends with farms/farmers to utilize, share, and extend the goodness of an over abundance of any particular crop (almost any).  

Yes Farms

yes food


In 2015 Micro Mama's extended our local harvest of over 30,000 pounds of organic locally grown produce through the art of culturing/fermentation. We are in such appreciation of the work we cooperatively do in making living foods for the goodness of all. Our relationships with farmers, soils, landscape, restaurants, retailers, customers, colleges, local economy, Mother Nature, micro & macro biology, and the support systems of family & friends make it all beautifully possible. Micro Mama's strongly believes that knowing our local farmers, and their best practices in stewardship of the land is in harmony with growing amazing food.  All of the farmers which we buy our vegetables from are USDA certified organic, and yes we believe this is healthiest for all.  These family farms not only grow amazingly beautiful and tasty certified organic vegetables, but are wonderful people who take pride and joy in growing awesome food.  Micro Mama's is in such appreciation for their hard work & stewardship.   We are so excited to work in collaboration with these amazing farms and farmers to bring you and the many NH's finest "pickeled" produce!


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