In Michael Pollan’s short video, “Why Eat Local”, he highlights three major concepts: the distance food travels from farm to plate has a huge impact on climate change, supporting local farms keeps farmers in business, and buying produce from local sources retains a beautiful farmland landscape instead of building houses and shopping malls. Pollan, an author, activist, and professor of journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, says the average distance for food to travel from farm to plate is 1500 miles and the amount of fossil fuel that is used to deliver food has a huge impact on climate change. If you buy pre-packaged lettuce in your grocery store in New York City and it is grown in California, it takes “56 calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver 1 calorie of food energy” to your plate.
Growing Demand for Buying Local
The local food movement is growing and demand for locally grown food is higher than it’s ever been before. On May 8th, 2014, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the 2014 Farm Bill will provide $78 million in loan guarantees and competitive grants for local food projects that will “give farmers and ranchers more market opportunities, provide consumers with more choices, and create jobs in both rural and urban communities”(Agri-Pulse.com). With demand from consumers, the U.S. government is taking actions to support the growth and expansion of the local food industry.
Engaging Grocery Stores
In Canada, Meghan Dear is working to answer the question: How do we get grocery stores to sell locally grown?”. Dear grew up in an agricultural family, studied Biological Sciences and Agriculture at the University of Alberta and worked assisting agricultural development in West Africa. When Dear returned from Africa she decided to develop an organization that works for and with grocery stores to grow the local food movement.
In February 2013, Dear founded Localize. Localize is a shelf-labeling program for grocery stores, that identifies local and regional products. The goal is to “unpack the dimensions of where food comes from” and shift the paradigm of whether food is local or not, to how local the food is. The Localize label is displayed near the price of the item and includes a Localize score based on four concepts: where the product is processed, where the product is owned, where the supply chain and ingredients come from, and the story of the food producer.
Localize works closely with the food producers and depends on their cooperation and collaboration to produce an accurate Localize score. Dear says, when we bring transparency to food production, people can understand and want to buy local.
A Model that Works
The Localize concept works because “consumers are empowered to make informed decisions at the point of sale on how to align their dollars with their values and grocers are empowered to engage directly in the issues that their customers care about – a major step towards fairer food”(sigeneration.ca). Within a year, there was an aggregate increase in sales of $4 million for the products that were labeled with the Localize label. Sixty grocery stores currently use the Localize labeling program and Dear’s plan is to expand to 200 grocery stores in the next 4 months. The Localize database certifies more than 5000 products from 400 food producers. Localize has grown exponentially in the last two years and on May 6th, 2014 Localize scored 1st place in the TEC VenturePrize winning a check of $100,000. The Localize model is based in software so they are looking at ways to work with local organizations “who can credibly implement the service locally”.
I believe this company has enormous potential. If you think about it, if you were at the grocery store, looking at two similar products, one with a label determining it local, and the other without, which product would you choose? I know I would choose the local product. Yes, farmer’s markets provide local food, but grocery stores are not going away. The Localize model gives grocery stores an easy way to label locally grown products.
Growing the Movement
Dear says, “We have a model, we have validation, but we have to hustle to get it into the general public”. With the help of people like you and me, we can increase awareness of the Localize model and increase demand for involvement of our grocery stores. Share, like, re-post this article to grow the local food movement.