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These and many more catchphrases around produce, meat, poultry, and dairy products sourced from producers within the community have fueled the “locavore movement” and it shows no signs of slowing down. This movement has gained so much traction that the New Oxford American Dictionary decided to incorporate the word, “locavore,” or an individual whose diet primarily consists of food sourced within a 100-mile radius, to its repository. In 2007, it made it to the dictionary’s word of the year.
Small scale and usually family-owned food businesses are positively impacting the local economy through job creation, sustaining and rotating cash flow, adding a blanket of food security, and remaining involved with the community. The very foundation of these businesses lies on trust, which is much easier to build when it thrives within a community. While the list goes on when it comes to the benefits of joining the locavore movement, there are certain challenges that need to be addressed, including it could be adding to the food waste predicament.
The cost of sustaining local food businesses. Local food business owners, especially ones that have recently established their brands, have to bear the cost of both setting up and making improvements or enhancements. Often, this impacts the prices of the end products, which still have to remain competitive with the market. Farms and other food businesses that employ staff members also have to remain in compliance with the minimum wage requirements of the state(s). For example, restaurants and cafes in Oregon had to slightly increase the prices of their offerings to accommodate the new minimum wage rate increase, which is expected to go even higher.
If the common practice is to consume food on a budget, then local produce that doesn’t end up in the consumers’ shopping cart are destined to either meet the compost pile or the growing garbage heap.
Decreased diversification. Whether it comes to eating a homecooked meal or dining out, consumers crave culinary diversity. Local food diversity is greatly diminished due to the availability of space, harvest time, and the window of favorable seasons. Good agricultural practices involve rotating patches of land with some “downtime” included so the soil is able to replenish its nutritional value. This results in seeking ingredients from other sources to address a deficit. Food distributors see this as an opportunity to source ingredients from other regions in bulk and sell them at competitive prices. Unfortunately, perishable goods have a limited shelf life and/or get damaged during transportation. Slight bruising or discoloration of the produce results in rejection, even though they’re quite safe to consume. The ideal food culture landscape would involve farms from different regions communicating with one another and supplying surplus produce to match demand and supply.
The impact of the political climate. The political climate does have a direct impact on our food culture and how we trade our ingredients with other regions. Consumers place more trust with local food businesses versus exploring food products from regions they are not familiar with. In addition, national public health, safety, and dietary policies are formulated without the active participation of the general public. It may be a long stretch to hope for transparency behind the decision-making process and, more specifically, behind the scientific research that often gets labeled as “recent studies have shown.”
“Farm fresh” is affecting our blue water footprint. Acquired land that is converted to a local farm requires energy, time, tedious amounts of planning, trials, and research to determine the crop type that will remain sustainable. During this process, copious amounts of water gets utilized for both irrigation and harvesting which in turn negatively impacts our blue water footprint. Renewable water sources remain limited and increased farming initiatives need to be pre-planned and efficiently executed to conserve water. By demonstrating an inclination towards local food producers, we are in fact, adding pressure to both our cultivable land and limited water resources and wasting them.