The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations reported in 2009 that the demand for food will increase due to population growth, and so food production will have to be increased 70% by 2050 to meet the need. Meanwhile, a huge amount of food waste through the food chain is a global problem too. Therefore, rethinking and focusing attention on the local food system would be a practical solution.
What is “Local”?
It is often discussed what “local” means for “local food”. It could be a town, a county or a country, depending on each person’s values. What makes “local” food local might be the distance of transportation. If food is consumed at a closer place, the food wasn’t transported a shorter distance. Thus, the distance can be an indicator of “local”.
Benefits of Local Food
Contributing to the local economy If people buy vegetables, meat, and fish produced by local food producers, the money directly goes to the benefit of local producers. This money will be used for their next food production, and this cycle will benefit not only the local industry but also the whole community.
Job Opportunities Local food systems could expand job opportunities. Although the local primary food industry needs more workers, the unemployed rate is increasing.
More fresh and nutrients Local food is bought within a shorter time after being harvested or caught than food imported or sold at mega supermarkets. Especially, as fresh products lose their nutrients as time goes along. Also, at local food markets, seasonal fresh products land on shelves, so consumers can eat them at the best time when they have the best taste and the most nutrients. Therefore, local food is fresher and nutritiously richer.
Environmentally Friendly Transporting food from producing places to supermarkets or exporting to other countries produces carbon dioxide (CO2). This holds 25% of total carbon emission in the world whereas emission from agriculture is 11-15% in 2011. Even though the producing process releases CO2, it is the smaller amount than the transporting process, and the former emission is produced in either case.
Information Accessibility Currently, the movement to eat healthily produced food, such as organic food, is becoming popular. At a local food market run by local producers, if consumers want to know how their food was produced, they can easily ask the producer and eat it without any concerns.
Strengthen Local Connection Eating locally can strengthen the feeling that people connect with their local community. When they buy local products at farmers’ market, they can have an opportunity to talk and communicate with them. Or when people buy products with a label saying a local producer’s name, consumers feel that they belong to their community more than just buying any fresh food at a supermarket.
Problems of Local Food
In spite of trying to encourage eating locally, there are some problems that both local producers and consumers face.
Large Producers vs. Small Producers Nowadays, some large supermarkets sell fresh food saying “local”, but the actual meaning of this “local” is unclear. One thing that can be said is this “local” food doesn’t bring the benefit to consumers’ local community. Large producers who made a contract with the supermarkets or only the supermarkets itself would benefit from it. Thus, although consumers buy “local” food at a supermarket, small local producers would not gain money.
Opening Hours Through the position of consumers, opening hours of local food supply facilities, such as farmers’ market, butchers, fish markets are limited. Usually, they close in the early evenings, like 4 or 5 pm, and most of them open only during weekdays and sometimes Saturdays. Because of the short hours, many business workers can’t use these markets. Even though some markets open on Saturdays, the chance that people can use them is less than supermarkets that open until midnight or 24 hours.
Convenience Usually, local food facilities only sell their products so that customers have to go from shop to shop for buying all products they need. Ironically, they might go to supermarkets to buy other products. Moreover, people who feel troubled to roam shops would directly go to a supermarket. Also, some people live too far to access local food.
Ideas for the Future
Solving problems and encouraging eating locally, and plans for progression will be needed.
Producers Cooperatives To increase producers’ economic status and activate food-producing industry, producers cooperatives that all local producers join should be organised. Cooperatives should have rules like deciding on food prices to make them the same, running their farmers’ market by rotation, and having a discussion that every member can comment equally. Also, they can be a source to advertise benefits of eating locally to local people. Thereby, local producers cooperatives would solve unequal profitability among local producers and lead the expansion of the whole producers.
Expanding Local Food Facilities Due to conventional short hours of local food supplying facilities, customers have trouble to access local food. This might be solved by extending closing time to later evening or opening on Sundays. Also, the number of shops that sells local food should be increased and placed in various areas preventing locational problems that bothered consumers. In addition, adopting a tool like online purchasing system would be useful to improve the accessibility of the local food system. A quick video about its idea is available below.
Local Government Involvement Both suggestions above would be realistic by the active involvement of local governments. Local governments can support the local food industry by organising events to appeal it to citizens and financing to running farmers’ markets and extending opening hours.
Local food sustainability is expected to lead the food sustainability for each local community. Working for invigorating local food system will beneficially affect to the global food insecurity.