What is local food anyway?

farmers market
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter

farmers marketLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

At Grist, there is an interesting article about the growth of the local food movement. But what does local really mean?

In summer, our family gets much of our food from the farmers' market in Huntsville, Ontario. Just outside of Algonquin Park, it is built on the granite and gneiss of the Canadian shield. There isn't much soil here and not a lot of farming. That farmer from the Holland Marsh drove 168 km (104 miles) to get here, and it is about as local as you can get.

Yet according to the Canadian government, "local" means within 50 km, or 31 miles. In big cities, that would barely get you out of the suburbs, let alone to productive farmland. Up on the shield, that probably limits you to a few heads of garlic. Catherine Porter reports in the Star about how one organization, Real Food for Real Kids , had to change its brochures and website or risk fines of $50,000 or six months in jail.

Then again, Ontario is a huge province, the size of Texas and Montana combined, bigger than France and Spain combined. It is as wide as the distance from Kansas City to New York City; the provincial government wants anything produced or harvested in Ontario to be considered local. That is pushing the envelope a bit.

At Local Food Plus, they are looking for a definition.

We need to find a working definition of local – one that is inclusive of the many players in the food system, as well as our urban communities. While a provincial definition may be less than ideal, due to a province like Ontario’s scale, this work is difficult and we must make compromises in order make food systems progress. Strict definitions like 50-KM might seem easy to conceptualize; however, this quickly becomes problematic when you begin to codify.Let’s not bog down progress in moving local sustainable food systems forward by (to quote Porter) putting such a short ruler on the word local.

What is local food anyway?
In Ontario, Canada, the government has a very different idea than the people selling it and promoting it.

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