A taste for local

The question comes up often: “What is the definition for local food?” As you might imagine, there’s no one right answer.

For someone who would source their food locally, they might draw the line at their regional, state or county borders — or perhaps their own backyard. For someone who wants to continue to enjoy those tropical bananas, maybe they’re careful to buy them only from the nearest possible source. Coffee? Good luck. The beans are tropical, but one might be able to support a local roaster in the process of buying them.

While a definition might flex with personal or business goals, or even season, what’s important is developing a shared understanding when working together. If, for instance, a farmer’s market is offering local produce, it would be necessary for the market to state a definition for its purposes — and for the reference of both customer and vendor. Restaurants, schools, and grocery stores would also do well to define — for their purposes — how they define “local.” Without a definition, the expression becomes meaningless, as with the recent Columbus-area sighting of “I’m Local!” branding next to green onions grown in Mexico by a California company.

For more on the adventure of eating local, consider finding Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.” In this book, you’ll find a family’s experience of eating from their own farm and garden, from local farmer’s markets and from neighboring farms. You’ll even find recipes, and an unlikely chapter on the secrets of turkey sex. “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” is available at Bartholomew County Public Library in multiple formats.

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Another title worth a look over these winter months is “The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating” by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon. This Canadian couple documents their year of eating food sourced from within a 100-mile radius of their city apartment. Can you imagine that these folks may have had to work a bit harder to find that local food than we do here in southern Indiana?

So the definition of local food may be personal, or subject to discussion and shared understanding, but we can readily point to what it looks like here and now. While the following list isn’t exclusive, it’s shows consistent progress toward local food availability.

Local food progress hereabouts can look like:

An assisted living facility chef shopping at a local farm stand.

A restaurant’s menu names the farms from which dishes are created.

A local farm, based on financial performance, decides to stop producing eggs and instead sets up year-round salad greens production, finding restaurant buyers.

Five active farmer’s markets — including a winter market _ and several community-supported agriculture plans.

A food co-op forms, planning a member-owned nonprofit cooperative grocery featuring locally-produced foods.

BCSC works to bring local foods to school cafeterias, inviting a local farmer to grow the farm-to-school “vegetable of the year” for student consumption. The farmer brings his produce and production story to the school, and students visit the farm.

Several farms set up extended-season, high-tunnel production of produce that had previously only been available locally in summer.

To learn more about the local food economy, what’s happening and how to support it according to your own interests, consider saving the date for our second Columbus-Area Local Food Summit, scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 22 at Donner Center, 739 22nd St, Columbus.

For more information, go online at extension.purdue.edu/bartholomew.