10 Things to Know About Local Food Systems

#1 Defining Local food.
According to the USDA (2008 Farm Bill), a product can be marketed as locally or regionally produced if its end-point purchase is within 400 miles from its origin, or within state boundaries. However, most retailers, restaurants or food services often define local to be on a smaller scale (within 100 miles, within 150 miles, etc.). Others include non-geographic values in their use of the term ‘local’, such as humanely raised, naturally grown, ethically produced, etc. These values are not always included in the definition of ‘local’, so be curious and ask questions!
#2 Buying local food helps support local economies.
Food dollars stay in your community when you buy local food. A Northeast Iowa study found that in a hypothetical scenario where the population’s diet was based on local production involving fruits, vegetables,grain products, dairy, and meats, 408 jobs would be regionally supported (only 55 or so would have been related to shifted on-farm production activity)
#3 Local foods systems create jobs.
Local foods bring new markets and economic opportunities for beginning farmers and food entrepreneurs. A 2014 study conducted by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture reported that at least 171 jobs new jobs were created in 2013 as a result of the local foods sector.
#4 Eating local food leads to healthier eating habits.
Locally grown produce is fresher. Produce start loosing nutrients as soon as they are harvested. What you buy at the supermarket may have been harvested days or weeks before reaching the retail shelf. On the other hand, produce bought from a local producer has often been picked within 24 hours of your purchase. Locally grown produce can be more nutrient dense than produce shipped from across the country.
#5 Local food systems can enhance food security.
California, the country’s largest producer of vegetables is suffering from its fourth year of drought. Growers have been forced to abandon thousands of acres in production. Iowa imports 84% of its food from out of state. Local production can be encouraged in Iowa to increase food security.
#6 Children are reconnected to food by growing and eating local.
Farm to School activities provide healthy food options and nutrition and food-based education to influence healthy eating behaviors and lifestyles in children. Studies show that children are more inclined to eat new kinds of food if they know where it comes from (farmtoschool.org).
#7 Local or organic?
Local and organic are two different things – ‘local’ food is produced and processed geographically near its point of sale. ‘Organic’ food is produced following a defined set of standards set by USDA. To label a product as ‘USDA Organic’, producers have to go through a certification process. Getting certified organic can cost a lot of money, and may not be worth it for small-scale farmers. However, many local food farmers use organic practices, and use their direct relationships to consumers rather than labels to ‘certify’ their products. By knowing your farmer locally, you have the ability to become familiar with their production practices regardless of label.
#8 Local food and food justice.
A critique of local food systems work is that it can create spaces that exclude people who cannot afford to ‘buy local’, valorizes ethics and language that are defined by specific populations, and skews the reality of who’s growing food. When defining your food system and the changes you are hoping to see, it is vital to create an inclusive space that takes into account your community’s diversity, including race, class, gender, and more. Read more in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Systems summer 2015 edition - Collected Commentaries on Race and Ethnicity.
#9 Federal support for local food.
Despite missed opportunities (nutrition assistance and Farm to School programs in particular), the 2014 Farm Bill illustrates the support for local and regional food systems by the federal government. The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, the Value Added Producer Grant, and Community Food Projects all received increased additional funding.
#10 You can play a part!
Everyone can play a part in supporting local foods systems, from our decisions as consumers or as community citizens.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Local Foods Program
Curtiss Hall, Ames, IA 50011
localfoods@iastate.edu; 515-294-3086