The Role of Local Food

The decimation of local food and farms is a conundrum that existed before the current crisis. Society has said over and over it wants local food and farms, yet our current “efficient” outcome ignores these wishes.

How? Efficient got twisted to mean the lowest dollar cost, when it really means “perfectly valued.” The difference is subtle but crucial in understanding the Local food opportunity. The word “dollar” is just one, not the only, measure of what food buyers value.

As discussed in my earlier posts, the crisis has exposed the weaknesses of the just-in-time, heavily consolidated distribution system. Although we will and should always have a global economy, the crisis has exposed the weaknesses of over-dependence on “efficiency” when it is measured solely as that which costs the least.

We are in a moment when food and the farming community has the nation’s attention. The individual action of buying food has always been able to directly reflect our values. What is unusual now is how visible that direct connection currently is.

Local food gives us an opportunity to get to the true definition of efficiency – perfectly valued. Many buyers value cost and also value having regional farms, supporting farmers’ futures, eating fresh food, strengthening their local economies, and having a reliable source during crises. When buyers hold those values and the connections between what they value and what they purchase are visible, then local food is equally or even more efficient than far-flung food. It’s economics as if people mattered (and it is indeed beautiful.)

A robust local food supply is forward looking. The point is to have options that shore up our economies, help our people, improve our planet, and protect us in times of emergency. Local food does all four of those things. Next up: More on costs and values.