Why it's important
Local food systems offer many economic, environmental, and quality-of-life benefits that apply to both businesses and residents as a whole. As consumers, individuals benefit from having more opportunities to buy fresh produce to cook at home or eat at restaurants. Local entrepreneurs benefit from increased business opportunities, and our communities as a whole benefit from strengthening the local economy.
Reduces Food Miles
The distance food travels from farm to plate -- referred to as "food miles" -- affects its impact on the environment. The average food item travels 1,500 miles, compared to the average locally produced item that travels only 56 miles. Although food miles account for only 11 percent of the food system's greenhouse gas emissions, a reduction of food miles also reduces the impact that rising fuel costs have on food prices. If the cost of gasoline continues to rise as it has over the last two decades, the economies of global food distribution may change dramatically, creating not just opportunities but perhaps the necessity for stronger local food systems.
Helps Manage Waste
A food system can also be a waste management technique and energy producer. By promoting a "closed loop" food system, in which every stage of the food system is used as a resource, the region can divert food waste from our landfills. An estimated 41 percent of U.S. food waste goes to landfills, where it takes up space and releases methane. The nutrients lost when food is landfilled could be retained and reused by composting food scraps for use in local food production, home gardens, or landscaping, thereby reducing the need for fertilizers. Additionally, food waste can be integrated into animal feed or converted into renewable energy and fuel.
Preservation of Farmland
Strengthening a local food system can make preservation of existing farmland more economically viable. Over the past several decades, the region has lost around 16,000 acres of farmland per year and currently has about 800,000 acres remaining. As development has occurred, large blocks of farmland have been fragmented and the production of commodity crops or livestock has become more difficult. Increasing demand for local foods like vegetables, which can more easily be produced on small or scattered sites, provides aspiring farmers with more production options. In addition to preserving an economic asset, farmland preservation also helps to maintain the rural character of much of our region and perpetuate agriculture as a thriving economic activity.