A fresh look at local food systems

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Santa Barbara, in California, in the USA, has one what most people would say is a thriving agricultural local food system. It ranks in the top 1 percent of counties in the States in value of agricultural products and produce, primarily fruits and vegetables.

One might, therefore, assume that a local food network like this might be of significance when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases (less fuel to transport produce) and increase nutrition (fresher produce is more nutritious).

Surprisingly, as researcher David Cleveland, a professor of environmental studies at UC-Santa Barbara found out, that assumption would be wrong. What Cleveland and his research team discovered was that more than 99 percent of the produce grown in Santa Barbara County is exported, and more than 95 percent of the produce consumed in the county is imported, some of it from as far away as Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand and this is very much like that in Britain as well.

Furthermore, if all produce consumed here was grown in the county, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions less than 1 percent of total agrifood system emissions, and it would not necessarily affect nutrition. And in the days gone by before all this shipping from China to the USA food that can be grown in the US itself this was what happened and nutrition and health were better than they are today.

Because when you buy local produce at your neighborhood chain grocery store that local produce may be local, but it may have been shipped to the grocer’s warehouse in another county or state and then shipped back to the neighborhood store.

In other words, fuel used to transport the produce plus turnaround time in shipping the local produce back to where it originated negates most of the environmental and health effects usually associated with local food—at least in the grocery store.

In Britain we have this very same problem also and unless the greengrocers and grocers or supermarket obtains the “local” fruit and vegetables from farms locally, direct, which is very rare indeed, then the truth is that everything is shipped to London – to Covent Garden Market, the fruit and veg wholesale market – first from whence it is then taken back to the local area.

The food miles are rather big ones here but would not need to be. We must be stupid or something.

Something to think about for sure…

© 2011