Prioritizing Local Food - Connor Atkins, Anirudha Mondal, Matthew Schwarzkopf, Heather Strathearn (Group 6)
When it comes to eating local it is important to consider ecological societal limitations, however, in an ideal situation, eating local should be prioritized over eating food that is not locally grown, produced, and manufactured. The benefits of local purchasing include increased local economic support and greenhouse gas emission reductions. However, there exist limitations to local food consumption in the shape of availability. In the worst-case scenarios there exist food deserts where physical distance from accessible groceries, or local groceries limits consumers to convenience store and fast food options. In most other cases, foods are in seasonal supply and unavailable during certain times of the year, along with the fact that some people are in food deserts and are unable to access these fresh foods both creating limitations on what is available in your region.
Social constraints can be addressed, but require action not only by the government, but by local citizens. Food deserts can be combated through developing more local food infrastructure. This will support local economic growth and community improvement. The ecological constraints can be circumvented through technological innovations such as hydroponics. While expensive, these solutions show promise in their ability to provide all types of food throughout the year. As a whole, while our society is not yet equip for buying only local, purchasing local products is a goal to move towards.
Buying local is important for the local economy to support jobs, and to recirculate revenue. It is also shown for that growers who sell locally end up creating an average of 13 jobs, much more compared to the three jobs that would be created when growers do not sell to the local system.
As these local businesses create jobs they are investing in the local community through a salary. This type of salary chain helps the middle class, as the small businesses are paying the individual who then can redistribute wealth back into their local economy. In a comparison of reinvestment based on spending $100 in a local economy, local businesses reinvest $68 compared to the $43 from non local companies. That is an additional 25% that local businesses reinvest into the local economy to help it grow, which can have a major impact.
As this money is being reinvested into the local economy, the area is able to grow and support more businesses and become more stable and resilient to recessions that may occur. Local businesses are also known to volunteer and donate more compared to large corporations, as they have an interest in the community as when the community succeeds their business prospects are to increase.
Another benefit to buying local is the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation of food products accounts for emissions, and given the understood impacts of Climate Change, all reduction methods should be explored. Collective action with regard to buying local can make large impacts on societal emissions.
Despite the benefits of buying local, there exist challenges such the presence of food deserts. “Food deserts are areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.” There are various standards of determining if an area is a food desert or not. One of the standard that the USDA uses to define an area as a food desert is that there should be at least 33% or 500 people in an urban area living without a proper grocery store in a 1-mile radius (10 miles in rural areas). Our own Purdue University falls under the category of food deserts after the closing of Fresh City Market on Northwestern Street. Statistics show that about 23.5 million people in the US living in areas that are regarded as food deserts. In food desert locations, buying local is not an option.
There are many initiatives to make healthy and local produce more readily available to such areas. Garden on the Go, a produce initiative from Indiana University, has several weekly pop-up shops that sell produce. With the initiative of buying local to save the planet, these areas are targeted for increased availability of produce.
Another effective solution are community gardens: pieces of public or private land that are used to grow local produce by groups of individuals. Community gardens are an excellent way to meet the local food requirement in a fashion that is ecological, economical and environment friendly. By practicing local food production using community gardens, not only is fresh and healthy produce readily available, but local community development is supported. Thus, community gardens provide with a great way to promote community gathering while making fresh produce available locally, thus improving the overall health of the people and the environment.
Another major challenge that is faced when it comes to eating locally is that the supply of local food is hard to maintain year-round. It is nice to go walk around a farmer’s market on a warm sunny day and buy locally grown fruit and vegetables, however, when the colder months roll around, farmers are done for the season and the farmers markets close. Where are consumers able to get locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables when there is a blanket of snow on the ground? The solution to this problem is hydroponic farms, and they have been gaining momentum all around the world.
Hydroponic farms have revolutionized the way crops can be grown through a soil free agriculture process where plants are grown in nutrient solutions. These farms are often found in warehouses where space is more affordable. These indoor farms have many advantages over a traditional farm. Since the farm is indoors, food can be grown year-round no matter the climate or location. A traditional farm only has one horizontal plane that can be farmed, but hydroponic farms take advantage of soilless growing methods and incorporate vertical farming systems. A system like the ones pictured below exponentially increases yields due to higher plant density.
One of the best things about hydroponic farms is that they can be started almost anywhere. Urban Farms, a hydroponic farm in Indianapolis, grows a variety of produce and sells it to local restaurants and at local farmers markets. They provide a year-round supply, allowing customers to stop doing business with large produce distributors. This local supply of food ended up being cheaper and reducing greenhouse gas emissions greatly. This goes against many people’s first instincts and proves that hydroponic farming presents a economically-realistic option for food production. Additionally, from eliminating the delivery service of these produce distributors, the restaurants were able to cut out a large amount of greenhouse gases used in the delivery process by their trucks.
The main downside to a hydroponic farm is the initial startup cost. A building has to be rented or purchased, which can be expensive depending on the location. The hydroponic systems themselves can also be very expensive. To build a 500 square foot farm it will take an initial investment of around $110,000 (Arnold, 2017). This pays for all of the systems, automation, lights, CO2, and nutrients for the solutions. There are some hydroponic farms that receive government funding because they bring lots of jobs to communities. Some programs even provide social benefits through taking in ex-convicts and giving them jobs working at the farms.
As outlined throughout this blog post, eating locally produced food is an ideal option that benefits the environment and economy. However, this is not always the easiest choice and sometimes it is not possible. With some help and initiative, communities have begun projects such as community farms to provide people a source of fresh, locally grown produce. Emerging technology in hydroponic farming is providing a way for innovative farmers to grow plants year-round in city environments. These options are not always possible, but they are a step in the right direction. Local governments and communities are realizing the importance of locally produced foods and providing support for these movements.
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