>In discussions of the relative merits of local vs. long-distance food supply
>(here and elsewhere), the term "local" is usually left somewhat vague. How
>far is "local"?
I don't think this question is answerable in general terms. What is
considered local can and must change for different regions, different
cultures, different foods, etc. The current wave of interest in local food
systems is just beginning to swell. The debate about what constitutes
"sustainable agriculture" has a long (and continuing) history. I believe
the discussion about what is meant by local food systems must follow a
That said, I agree that it would be helpful for people to be a bit clearer
about what they mean by local food systems. One danger of a lack of clarity
is that there seem to be a number of folks who immediately assume that those
interested in studying or creating more localized food systems are talking
about completely self-sufficient, self-contained food systems. While I get
rather annoyed by people who assume that local food system advocates want to
revert to the food system of the late 1800s, I also recognize that the
advocates need to clarfiy their vision.
My understanding of the movement to promote local (or community or regional)
food systems is that it seeks to //emphasize// the local; emphasize smaller
and mid-sized, family owned businesses; emphasize developing the bonds of
community within food systems; emphasize understanding of - and accounting
for - the "true" costs (environmental, social, economic, etc.) of food
production, processing, packaging, transportation, and waste
disposal/recycling. Put another way, local food systems is really just a
proxy for people knowing and caring more about their food supply. The basic
(and admitedly large and "un-proven") assumption being that if one's food
comes from ones local community one is more apt to know about the conditions
and impacts of its production and more apt to be in a position to influence
the process in positive ways. As a colleague of mine recently observed, It
has more to do with direct *participation* than with the exact mileage from
farm to table.
In regard to CSA, we have farms serving Madison right on the edge of town
(one within easy bicycling distance) as well as farms over 2 and half hours
away. I would never want to say that a farm 3 miles from town is an
example of a local food system while one over 100 miles is not. Both are
certainly far more local (and participatory) than the standard long-distance
supplies coming from California, Florida, Central America, etc.
I have observed that CSA members are more apt to visit and participate in
their farm if it is closer to town (say within a thirty minute driving radius).
I know I didn't really answer the question but I hope this helps.
Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1450 Linden Drive, Room 146
Madison, WI 53706