By Anna Johansson
The fastest way to see a community thrive is by organizing local food systems that can produce and distribute healthy, organic food to the people.
The average American spends $151 per week on food, according to Gallup.
Most grocery store food is imported which means produce is picked before it ripens, and it’s difficult to enjoy. Because imported food is cheaper, local farmers can have a tough time setting competitive prices for their food.
But in a perfect world, if everyone bought locally, they could drop their prices and that $151 per person would go a lot further. Not to mention, it would keep the farmers in business and improve the local economy.
The chain reaction of local food systems
Ultimate sustainability within a local community does more than just maintain the replenishment of environmental resources. When local food systems are in place, sustainability extends to encompass the replenishment the community’s local economy, keeping food sales local, which significantly impacts the wellbeing of the community.
Local food systems, when embraced by entire communities, provide some great benefits:
Local food decreases food costs to the consumer: Food is a necessity for all of us, and many people spend the majority of their paychecks on food.
It’s cheaper to buy avocados imported from Mexico than it is to buy local avocados, even when you’re surrounded by them. Buying locally will almost always be more expensive when the whole town isn’t doing it. Furthermore, it’s not because the farmers want to make more money. They have to charge more just to stay in business.
It’s just an unfortunate fact that it’s cheaper for the large food corporations to produce and deliver in bulk across the world. Local farmers just don’t have that luxury.
The tables turn, however, when an entire community consistently supports local farmers. Supporting and contributing to a local food system helps to increase and maintain the demand that farmers need to be able to drop their prices.
Many people have the mindset that they’ll buy local as soon as it’s cheaper, but that doesn’t work. They’ll be waiting forever. If everyone bought local, starting today, the community would see a significant price drop in a short amount of time.
Local food allows you to know where your food comes from: Some aspects of agriculture standards are important to consumers but aren’t covered by the certified organic program run by the USDA, such as soil management, pesticide use, water conservation, greenhouse gases, and farmworker welfare, just to name several. For more conscious consumers, this means there’s no way to know how their organic produce was really grown.
In order to fill in this gap of information, Whole Foods Market is rolling out a new program called Responsibly Grown where produce and floral suppliers are rated on a handful of sustainability practices. Based on their practices, the suppliers are given a rating of Good, Better, or Best in an effort to maintain supply chain transparency for the consumers.
Although this program isn’t widespread (yet), it has the potential to change the way people select their food.
Local food generates relationships: It’s almost impossible to go to a local farmer’s market and not find yourself involved in an interesting conversation with one of the vendors. Whether it’s the guy who sells the beautiful fractal vegetable called Romanesco or the lady who sells the Asian pears, if you dare to connect, you’re going to learn more about fruits and vegetables than you ever dreamed possible.
When you buy local food, you don’t just know where your food comes from regionally because you peeled a sticker off a piece of fruit. You know where your food comes from because you’ve met some of the people involved in its production. You’re a part of the community and so are they. And the connection you create with the people who grow local food will make you feel good about where your money is going and who you are choosing to support.
Communities thrive on a relationship-based economy: At the end of the day, sourcing food locally is the best way to create sustainability. By supporting your local farmers, you’re keeping them in business, and ensuring there is a demand for what they produce. This demand allows them to keep a supply of food readily available for the community at a reasonable price.
There’s more to a community’s economy than just an exchange of dollars, goods, and services. A staple in any economy is the relationships that are created within the systems – a stable economy comes from the trust and camaraderie of the people inside the community. And there’s no better way to create that experience in a community than through food.
Image credit: Pexels
Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, HuffingtonPost.com and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.