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Locavore Revolution

Food localism is becoming a movement, and its adherents have a name: “locavores.” Some are liberal environmentalists, others conservative or libertarian-leaning farmers. All share a passion for community, transparency, and quality—values decentralized farming brings back to the dinner table.

Merriam-Webster defines a “locavore” as “one who eats foods grown locally whenever possible.” In practice, “local” definitions can be ambiguous: for Alisa Smith, author of The 100-Mile Diet, a “locavore” only consumes food from within a 100-mile radius. In Congress’s 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, “local” produce must travel less than 400 miles from its origin or else stay within a state. Vermont law defines “local” items as those originating within 30 miles of the point of sale.

Just how far food localism can go is the movement’s central question—and it’s not just about distance, but the scale of the locavore economy. Can food localism be a viable business, as well as the crux of community?

Several examples suggest it can. In 1961, Joel Salatin’s parents bought a small farmhouse in the hills of Swoope, Va. Since then, Salatin has turned Polyface Farm into a $2 million a year enterprise. He adopted direct sales to consumers—literal consumers of his food, that is, not just processing plants—at the farm’s inception, and he applauds locavorism for upholding this practice.

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“What the locavore movement has done most is to create an economic drive, dumping dollars into the local farm economy,” he says.

And that economy is growing. The USDA Economic Research Service reports that from 1997 to 2007, direct agricultural sales increased by 105 percent. The number of U.S. farmers’ markets rose from 1,755 in 1994 to 6,132 by 2010. Community-supported agriculture, or CSA, a system in which consumers invest in a farm’s harvest and receive a share of its produce, has grown, too. In 2005, there were 1,144 CSA’s in the U.S.—up from 761 in 2001 and just two in 1986—there are now over 2,500. Local farmers, so often outmatched by corporate agriculture, are in flourishing demand.

Patricia Glaeser’s husband “always wanted to farm,” but a 27-year naval career put that dream on hold. After retirement, the couple began Faith Like a Mustard Seed farm in Leesburg, Va. They are building a barn in the next few months and will open a farm store within the year. Glaeser teaches cooking classes on the side—she used to work as a private chef to wealthy clients.

“I worked with some amazing chefs, and we always knew the best food to get was from farmers,” Glaeser says. “It’s easy to be a chef when you’re using stuff that tastes so good naturally.”

Other chefs appear to agree: the National Restaurant Association reports that 89 percent of fine-dining operators served local produce as of 2008. The association’s top two dining trends for 2014 are locally sourced meat and seafood and locally sourced produce.

For Vermilion, an upscale restaurant in Alexandria, Va., locavorism is the backbone of an ethos. Chef William Morris’s mother bought fresh produce from the local market every day. She grew up in South America, and this heritage shaped his understanding of food.

“You get what you want, and use what you get,” he says. He estimates that Vermilion is 95 to 99 percent local. They even have their own mushroom forager.

Morris believes all restaurants can adopt locavore menus, if they are careful. He avoids waste by using as much of a given product as possible. When clients like a dish, he makes it regularly. “You’re not going to make it rich,” he said, “but if you make clientele happy, they’ll keep coming.”

To cut the cost of buying local, Glaeser recommends that consumers think like Morris: how much of this product can I use? She planned to make head cheese the week of our interview since her butcher refused to buy this particular cut of the hog. Most people refuse to eat “mysterious” cuts of meat. “You can still eat local and not spend a lot of money,” she says, “But you have to look outside the box.”

According to Salatin’s research, 50 percent of the world’s edible food production is never eaten by humans. People discard much of that percentage, including useful meat and produce. Locavorism can be accessible to people of all incomes with better consumption practices, Salatin believes. His family buys cheap 50-pound bags of flour and makes their own bread from scratch. “That’s called taking charge of your own life,” he says. “You have to decide this is a priority.”

More and more Americans are making that decision. In a Food Marketing Institute study, consumers cited freshness, support for the local economy, and contact with producers as reasons to buy local. While farmers and consumers once shared a close relationship, this link was severed with the rise of factory farming and food processing. Salatin believes that locavorism can fix this.

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Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms in Virginia

“You can’t have integrity without transparency, and you can’t have transparency without a short chain of custody,” he says. “The locavore movement is really a rebellion against the adulteration and abuse of the industrial food system.”

“It’s a very primal instinct to want that connection to the earth and our food,” says Rachel Bell, owner of Tide Mill Creamery in Edmunds, Maine. “The disconnect is recent, and people are wanting that connection back.”

The connection she has in mind is about more than a label, and there’s a contrast here with the movement toward “organic” foods. Bell shares her land with her brother and five cousins, who are all 8th-generation family farmers on the property. Although Bell has organic certification, she believes her locality means more to customers.

Many farmers who “don’t bother with the certification process” still work in a sustainable fashion, she says. “It’s important, in some ways, to be certified so that people truly know what your practices are,” she notes. “But it’s a lot of paperwork. It can be frustrating to farmers who just want to grow food.”

In many respects, the techniques of locavore and organic farmers are similar. Both focus on natural, sustainable practices. But Hope Hall, owner of Sunflower Farm Creamery in Cumberland, Maine, says organic farming has undergone a “sad twist” as its popularity has grown. Many organic enterprises have adopted the careless commercialism they once fought. And Salatin believes the federal government has “hijacked” the organic movement. Accountability has weakened as a result. The mystique of organic certification remains intact, but standards have eroded.

Procuring organic certification is often expensive, too. The Glaesers already pay $600 a month for GMO-free chicken feed. If they were to go further and “went organic,” the cost difference would trickle down into the price of the eggs. “That’s a jump a lot of people don’t want to have to make,” Glaeser says. And no one has complained about the eggs’ lack of organic certification. “It seems to me that a lot of people are not wanting the organic stamp as much as they want things to be done the right way.”

Glaeser says farms should be small enough to foster relationships and quality, yet big enough to be reliable. “We’re not huge, but we’re big enough where we can take requests anytime, any day.” The farm’s walk-in freezer holds 3,000 pounds of pork, ready for any restaurant or customer who might call.

The Glaesers hope their barn store’s consistent hours will enable consumers to stop by on their own schedules. “You have to be able to have people count on you,” Glaeser says.

Salatin agrees. His farm is by no means small, and he believes other farms should consider a viable scale. Too many farmers’ markets, he says, sell “boutique relish in baby jars.” It’s an expensive and time-consuming practice. marapr-issuethumb [2]

But some of that can’t be helped. Hope Hall thinks locavorism speaks to something deeper than a desire for quality food. “We never feel connected to our moment,” she says. “We’re always busy. But when people come to buy cheese at the farm, I can see their blood pressure drop.”

Customers often stay, chat, and help feed the goats. “It’s human nature to be drawn to a farm,” she says. “It appeals to a real human need people are craving.”

Salatin agrees. “If there’s one bipartisan bridge, it’s food,” he says. “Because everyone has to eat. The message is really community.”

Gracy Olmstead is associate editor of The American Conservative.
Follow @gracyolmstead [3]

17 Comments (Open | Close)

17 Comments To "Locavore Revolution"

#1 Comment By Escher On April 29, 2014 @ 4:13 am

With most people working crazy hours just to get by, locavorism may unfortunately stay the preserve of the upper and upper middle classes, who have the time and money to source high quality local produce and make their own bread from scratch. The average Joe and Jane will get by on Hamburger helpers and mac-n-cheese.

#2 Comment By mrscracker On April 29, 2014 @ 9:50 am

Most folks we know that farm also have jobs off the farm.Or at least one spouse does.
Unless you make it your life’s ambition & practise it/ promote it 24/7, small scale speciality farming generally requires outside income to make ends meet.Or, inherited property.
On a smaller scale, most people can supplement their family’s food by gardening, beekeeping, raising a few chickens, etc.There’s so much wasted space that could be utilized.Every little bit makes a difference.When you attempt too much, you tend to burn out.

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 29, 2014 @ 10:23 am

Maybe I missed it. And hopefully, I am not being tawdry by this comment.

The only real fed regulation I would that they adhere to is hiring US citizens..

#4 Comment By Bart W On April 29, 2014 @ 10:51 am

On a smaller scale, most people can supplement their family’s food by gardening, beekeeping, raising a few chickens, etc.There’s so much wasted space that could be utilized.Every little bit makes a difference.When you attempt too much, you tend to burn out………… I agree. I have two garden plots that I rotate out of that supplies my house with fresh seasonal veggies year round. I have also incorporated blueberry bushes into our yard landscape and on other places I have other fruit trees. My wife and I can and freeze a lot of produce also. We figure we save around 600-700 dollars a year on food this way and we have higher quality produce.

#5 Comment By Interguru On April 29, 2014 @ 11:23 am

Whatever advantages local buying, saving energy is not one of them. A fully loaded 18 wheeler going 1000 miles is more efficient than a farmer’s pickup going 100.

In addition, [4] that 1/3 to 1/2 of the energy used in producing and transporting food is by customers driving to the store. You should consolidate your trips. A drive to the country to some farm may be good fun, but it does not save energy

#6 Comment By Johann On April 29, 2014 @ 11:40 am

I’m highly skeptical that foods labeled organic are truly organic. There is no way the picture perfect fruit and vegetables labeled organic in the whole foods type stores can possibly be organic. They may use organic nutrients, but they have to be using fungicides and insecticides.

And when will the unscientific anti-GMO nonsense stop? Its curious that most anti-GMO people tend to call catastrophic climate change skeptics anti-science. GMO’s allow for less or no fungicide and insecticide use, and allow for no-till farming thus protecting the soil.

#7 Comment By Jude On April 29, 2014 @ 12:15 pm

Extending the “locavore” concept to all products would help solve many of this country’s economic problems. For example, over 60% of automobiles sold in this country are made by non-American manufacturers. Very few electronic products are manufactured in America, although Apple is rumored to be moving at least assembly of certain products back to the USA.

If Americans demanded American-made products, even at a price premium, more products would be domestically sourced.

#8 Comment By Viking On April 29, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

It may well be a higher-income preoccupation, as Escher says. What particularly interested me was Alisa Smith’s saying the locavores only consume from within a 100 mile radius. This would seem to mean that those in the temperate zone can’t consume anything tropical, and those in the tropics are forbidden anything from outside Cancer and Capricorn. I know I have no desire to be a locavore if that’s what it takes.

#9 Comment By dakarian On April 29, 2014 @ 1:42 pm

Escher has the correct of it, sadly. This really isn’t something that the lower class can really contemplate.

However, I present this mentality:

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Basic summary: A lot of the waste and pollution that occurs in the world come from the extra extravagance of the highest classes. Or, to put it Hans’ way: every poor person owning and using a washing machine isn’t nearly as earth punishing as a few people riding jet liners all day. Thus it only takes those at the top being sustainable to make a big enough difference, even if the majority doesn’t.

Thus to this item. Yes, it takes a middle and upper class lifestyle to be able to aim locally. However, perhaps that’s all we need to have happen. Have those at the top waste less and sustain more. I won’t be able to buy organically local produce but I have other issues on my mind anyway. Besides mass producing ‘locally’ isn’t going to look any better than the current system and will cost more to boot.

But, when my economic situation improves to the point where a boost to a grocery bill doesn’t mean an unpaid electricity bill, then I’ll start learning about what farmers around here sell the best tomatoes.

#10 Comment By mrscracker On April 29, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

Bart W ,
That’s lovely.Hope your gardens & fruit do well this year.
You know, beyond the higher quality & financial savings, you have so many intangible benefits from raising your own food.Physical exercise,contact with nature,gaining hands-on knowledge of botany/biology- and the experience can all be shared with your children.
Folks spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on recreation, gym memberships, & vacations.To me it makes sense to at least spend some of those dollars on a garden, fruit trees, barns, etc that go on providing sustenance & enjoyment.

#11 Comment By MikeCA On April 29, 2014 @ 6:04 pm

I’m fortunate to live in Northern California where we have many family farms,a lot of them organic. We also have yr round farmers mkts during the wk & the wknds, making them more accessible to more people. I try to be a locavore but I’m pragmatic about it-I love pineapple for example and wouldn’t dream of giving it up. Ditto real Grade B maple syrup- I order it from a family farm in MA. But I do try to eat in season as much as possible and freeze/preserve things when they’re at their peak for consumption later on. Organic is important but supporting local farmers is paramount; besides which the food is a lot fresher & tastier. Many farmers markets now accept ” food stamps” and seniors & other low income individuals are given vouchers to obtain fresh produce- it’s not merely for the bourgeoisie. It’s a positive trend that I hope will spread nationwide.

#12 Comment By elizabeth On April 29, 2014 @ 11:53 pm

“I’m highly skeptical that foods labeled organic are truly organic. There is no way the picture perfect fruit and vegetables labeled organic in the whole foods type stores can possibly be organic. They may use organic nutrients, but they have to be using fungicides and insecticides.”

Not sure where you get your information. Organic certification includes detailed information about the insect and fungus control processes used on the farm.

That said, the industrial takeover of the organic movement is a sad thing. That movement was a partnership between producers and consumers, and the food movements will probably never make the mistake of inviting the government in the door for certifications again. Too much politics and Big Food doing the minimum required and turning out second rate produce. I’ve tasted truly awful organic apples at Whole Foods – couldn’t compare to the delicious local organic stuff at the co-op.

As for cost, I’m retired and shop at the co-op for all organic food. We cook from scratch, shop as much as possible from the bulk bins, sale stacks and the periphery of the store. We spend about $100/week for two adults, which includes luxuries like coffee and a few fancy condiments we could do without easily. We did a “challenge” a few years ago of eating on a food stamp budget at the co-op and had food left in the freezer when it was over.

#13 Comment By Richard Parker On April 30, 2014 @ 2:00 am

I notice that almost all Locavores make an exception for coffee.

#14 Comment By Bart W On April 30, 2014 @ 8:15 am

I hope it also does well this year Mrscracker. Right now with the weather down south I am in constant fear of hail damage. Where I am we have been lucky and just had rain but other people I know have suffered some damage from the weather. It appears if all stays well I am set up for a bumper blueberry and peach crop. The veggie garden is looking good also, especially the green beans.

#15 Comment By mrscracker On May 1, 2014 @ 10:42 am

Richard Parker says:

April 30, 2014 at 2:00 am

I notice that almost all Locavores make an exception for coffee.”
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Outside of Hawaii maybe, that’s going to be the case, but you can grow decent tea in certain parts of the US, maybe Canada, too. There’s a tea plantation near Charleston, SC.

#16 Comment By mrscracker On May 1, 2014 @ 10:46 am

Bart W ,
I envy your peaches.Supposedly there are low-chill varieties we can grow & my neighbors planted one last year.I’m waiting to see how it does for them.
We’ve had radishes, lettuce, English peas, & Irish potatoes so far this spring.Our green beans look hopeful, too.
Hope you continue with good weather.
God bless!

#17 Comment By Paul – Permie (soon to be) from the Mallee On July 2, 2014 @ 2:42 am

Escher says, “With most people working crazy hours just to get by, locavorism may unfortunately stay the preserve of the upper and upper middle classes, who have the time and money to source high quality local produce…” This ought not be the case at all. Locavorism is about encouraging Joe and Jenny Bloggs to give a crap about food. How did the thing so central to our lives get pushed to the back, and endless toil and TV to the fore? No wonder we’re so fat, lazy and celebrity- and tabloid-obsessed.