Every year, we hear about e-coli outbreaks that sicken consumers due to contamination in out of state farms or worse, unregulated foreign farms. This is why many are turning to farmers' markets for locally sourced produce. But there are other reasons why you should look to local farms. Sure, knowing how your local farmer plants and how they harvest helps you understand your contamination risks. But there's a much larger and ecological reason to support local agriculture: the environmental cost and the non-sustainable use of energy.
There's a new term created in the last two decades that every food lover should know: food miles.
Basically, it refers to how far does your food travel from its source before it reaches your plate. The term was coined by academics in the UK: Professor Tim Lang of Sustainable Agriculture Food and Environment (SAFE), and Angela Paxton. In Paxton's jaw dropping 1993 book, The Food Miles Report: The dangers of long-distance food transport gave awareness of this unsustainable global practice.
In the United States, with funding from the USDA, Holly Hill, an NCAT research specialist wrote a report in 2008 called "Food Miles: Background and Marketing". In this piece, Hill investigated the negative impact of America's traveling produce.
In her work, she highlighted that nearly 80% of America's energy use consumed by the food system is associated with processing and transporting alone. Only 20% of that energy spent goes towards production. With the advent of mega supermarkets and national grocery chains, a consumer can easily purchase out of season produce that's farmed in foreign lands thanks to large distribution centers and long distance transport. This lopsided use of energy impacts the economy and our environment by raising fuel costs and increasing pollution.
The report also highlights that out of 58 commonly eaten, imported foods, the items had to travel an average 2,811 miles, producing 51,709 tons of greenhouse gases annually.
To illustrate the point that the current food system is unsustainable, Hill broke out the average number of miles that trucks have to travel to deliver certain foods to the Chicago Terminal Market:
At Sausa Farm, we aim to do our part to help reduce our family's environmental impact, not only by eating foods locally, but producing it for our friends and family in the Lee County community.