Go local! Locally grown! Eat local! You may see these phrases popping up around your town's restaurants, farmer's markets and grocery stores. In the past decade, there's been a massive surge in popularity and demand for local food products—in fact, it's grown so much that those who follow this lifestyle even have a new name: Locavores. These folks are defined as "a person whose diet consists only or principally of local grown or produced foods." Intrigued? Let's dive into some of the facts behind the locavore movement.
What Makes it Local?
Local food is based on the idea that food producers and consumers are close geographically. Basically, people buy foods produced as close to their home as possible. But how close does it need to be to be considered local?
Currently, there aren't regulations in the United States that determine whether a food is considered local, which means there are some variations in definition. Some people consider a food grown within 100 miles to be local. Stores like Whole Foods and Wal-Mart use state lines to determine locality (Whole Foods also states that they like to "leave it up to our [individual] stores"); this could mean that a "local" food was actually grown hundreds of miles away.
The Locally Grown Movement
If you eat out often, you've likely seen the words "locally grown" pop up on some menus. In fact, some restaurants pride themselves on serving all locally grown food (we'll get to why this is a good thing in a minute), and are often known as "farm-to-table" restaurants. You've probably also noticed an increase in the number of farmer's markets each year.
The growth of locally sourced foods has been explosive in the past decade. From 2005 to 2012, local food sales have grown from $1 billion to nearly $7 billion in annual sales. Since 2006, the number of farmer's markets has increased by 180 percent and the number of school districts using a farm-to-school program increased by 430 percent.
The Benefits of Locally Grown Foods
Let's get to the good stuff. There's actually a solid correlation between locally grown foods and good health. A study published in the Journal of Rural Health found lower rates of obesity, diabetes and mortality in areas where locally-sourced food is available. Also, another study showed that an increase in spending on locally grown fruits and vegetables correlates to a decrease in that area's diabetes and obesity rates.
Relying on locally grown foods also means greater diversity in your diet; you'll be reliant on eating what is in season and, therefore, more likely to try new foods. Along with this is an increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Also, typically, locally-sourced foods means a lot less preservatives. When food has to travel hundreds of miles to get from the farm to your table, it's often coated in chemical preservatives. Local food, on the other hand, doesn't need to be preserved!