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The concept of buying local is simply to buy food (or any good or service) produced, grown, or raised as close to your home as possible. With industrialization, our food is now grown and processed in fewer locations, meaning it has to travel further to reach the average consumer's kitchen. Although this method of production is considered efficient and economically profitable for large agribusiness corporations, it is truly harmful to the environment, consumers, and rural communities.
Did You Know?
A typical carrot travels 1,838 miles to reach your dinner table.
In the U.S. a wheat farmer can expect to receive about six cents of each dollar spent on a loaf of bread, approximately the cost of the wrapping.
Farmers markets enable farmers to keep 80 to 90 cents of each dollar spent by the consumer.
About 1/3 of all U.S. farms are located within metropolitan areas, comprising 18% of the total U.S. farmland.
Only 3.5 cents of each dollar spent in your typical grocery store actually goes to the farmer. If you buy food directly from farmers you can be sure that most, if not all, of your money goes directly to the farmer. When you purchase local at your co-op, over half your purchase goes to the farmer.
Small farmers reinvest more money in to local economies by purchasing feed, seed, and other materials from local businesses.
Food Miles, Resources, and the Environment
"Food miles" refer to the distance a food item travels from the farm to your home.
So how does our food travel from farm field to grocery store?
A tremendous amount of fossil fuel is used to transport foods such long distances. Food processors use a large amount of paper and plastic packaging to keep food fresh (or at least looking fresh) for a longer period of time. This packaging eventually becomes waste that is difficult, if not impossible to recycle.
Industrial farms are often major sources of air and water pollution. Small, local farms are often run by farmers who live on their land and work hard to preserve it. Buying local means you can talk directly to the farmer growing your food to find out what they do and how they do it.
Health and Nutrition
Food transported short distances is fresher and safer than food that travels long distances. Local food has less of an opportunity to wilt and rot, requires minimal processing, are produced in relatively small quantities, and are distributed within a few dozen miles of where they originate.
Family Farms and Community
According to the USDA, the U.S. has lost over five million family farms since 1935. Family farms are going out of business at breakneck speed, causing rural communities to deteriorate.
The U.S. loses two acres of farmland each minute as cities and suburbs spread into the surrounding communities.
What You Can Do
Fair trade is an ethical partnership between consumers and producers around the world. Food and other products that are purchased via Fair Trade support the farmers and artisans who produce them, their workers and communities, and the environment. Over a million farmers and workers in 58 developing countries—across Africa, Asia, and Latin America—are currently participating in Fair Trade.
Fair Trade benefits farmers and workers and their communities by guaranteeing decent living wages for products—wages that enable producers to support their families and contribute to the betterment of their communities. By eliminating unnecessary middlemen, Fair Trade empowers farmers to deal directly with importers, giving them the tools and the revenue to build their businesses and shed poverty.
Communities that participate can invest Fair Trade funds in their own businesses (for training programs and organic certification, for example) as well as needs like healthcare and education. Fair Trade encourages democratic decision-making, transparency and accountability in business relationships, independence, and gender equity. It ensures that people work in safe conditions, without practices that jeopardize their health or well being. As appreciation for their products becomes increasingly apparent, Fair Trade producers develop pride in their work and their communities.
TransFair USA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is one of twenty members of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), and the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States.
The Fair Trade Federation links low-income producers with consumer markets and educate consumers about the importance of purchasing fairly traded product.
The Organic Foods Production Act put forth a vision for national organic standards in 1990. After twelve years and an estimated 275,000 public comments, the actual standards were implemented. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented the nation's Final Rule on the first organic standards on October 21, 2002.
The national rules incorporated and replaced more than 40 separate standards set by individual states and private organizations. Establishing national standards eliminated any disparity created by so many independent certification organizations creating standards. With a national organic standard, foods labeled as organic meet a specific set of criteria that is the same no matter where the food is produced.
The National Organic Standards are designed for sustainability, to promote human health and nutrition, to improve the health of farmland, and to promote the health of our environment as a whole. The USDA defines organic agriculture as: "An ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony."
Organic standards prohibit:
Synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fungicides
Antibiotics or added growth hormones
Bio-solids (sewage sludge) and synthetic fertilizers
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), seeds or ingredients
Animal by-products in animal feed
Organic practices require:
Inspections of all farm fields, processing facilities and production and sales records by agents accredited as USDA Certifiers
Periodic testing of soil and water used in production
Continual monitoring, maintenance and improvement of soil health
Crop rotation, mulching and other practices to prevent soil erosion and enhance soil health
Specific composting methods for both animal and plant waste
Outdoor access for livestock
Pasture for all ruminants
100 percent certified organic feed for organic animals
Certification standards do not currently exist for beauty products, health supplements, pet foods, fabrics, household cleaners, farmed or wild seafood.
"The choices we make as consumers drive the seafood marketplace. Your purchasing power can make a difference by supporting those fisheries and fish farms that are better for the environment, while at the same time relieving pressure on others that are not doing as well. With more than 75% of the world's fisheries either fully fished or overfished, these issues are more important than ever." Seafood Watch Pocket Guides
Habitat damage, overfishing, by-catch and aquaculture are all significant issues facing the seafood industry. As a shopper, it is often hard to know where your seafood comes from. We are working to find sustainable sources and educate you about the product you purchase.
The methods used to raise, harvest, or catch the seafood we offer are all things that we look at when making our purchasing decisions. It is our goal to offer promote the sustainable options we are able to offer and increase the customer demand for sustainable seafood.
The Seafood Watch Program at Monterey Bay Aquarium is a leader in the promotion of sustainable seafood. They define it as being "from sources, either fished or farmed, that can maintain or increase production into the long-term without jeopardizing the affected ecosystems."
Some of the key issues that help us to evaluate whether a fishery is sustainable include:
1. Inherent vulnerability of the species to fishing pressure
2. Status of the species population
3. Nature and extent of bycatch
4. Effect of fishing practices on habitats and ecosystems
5. Effectiveness of the fishery management
Some of the key issues used to evaluate fish farming include:
1. Use of marine resources in fish feed
2. Risk and impacts of escaped farmed fish to wild fish
3. Risk and impacts of disease and parasite transfer to wild fish
4. Risk and impacts of pollution and other impacts on habitats and ecosystems
5. Effectiveness of the fishery management
photo credit: Parkerman & Christie