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An Explanation of Local Food: Part 2

The Definition of Local

Local does not have one clear, regulated definition in the United States. Because the word has been frequently used in an interchangeable manner, the lack of clarity is understandable. It follows, then, that it’s worth considering the literal meaning of the word. For this, we’ll turn to the Merriam Webster English Dictionary.

The three most relevant definitions for the way that we use the word Local in our food systems are:


1: characterized by or relating to position in space:  having a definite spatial form or location

2a: of, relating to, or characteristic of a particular place:  not general or widespread b: of, relating to, or applicable to part of a whole

3a: primarily serving the needs of a particular limited district b: of a public conveyance: making all the stops on a route

Therefore, Local means some sort of specific area that has a relationship to a broader or larger area. Building on those points of understanding, it makes sense that Local is a relative or subjective term. The specific and broad areas in question, are dependent on whoever or whatever is making observations about them.

Basically, this means that a person buying food in Austin, Texas is going to have a completely different idea of what constitutes Local food than someone in Boston, Massachusetts. That scenario may seem obvious, but the same idea of subjectivity could also apply to different neighborhoods in Boston, or even to different individuals with unique perspectives within one shared neighborhood. This lack of consensus is why we often turn to our labels, producers, retailers, and government to guide our understanding. But, that dependence may not be such a wise idea after all.

Local Farms

The Legalese Behind Local

In 2008, the Farm Act stated that a product can be marketed as locally or regionally produced if the location where it was purchased is within 400 miles of its point of origin, or within state boundaries. To offer some context, that means that your Local food could be coming from the complete opposite side of your state, or even several states away! Although some states implement more stringent standards that require food labeled Local to be produced within their boundaries, this could still result in some mysteriousness on whether or not your “locally grown” veggies are coming from 400, 40, or 4 miles away from where you bought them.

Also important to note is that there are no additional constraints enforced by the government regarding the scale, growing methods, output of quality, or any other characteristics that we found are commonly attributed to Local farms. So, again, these values can be false assumptions made by consumers.

Knowing this, where do we go from here? How should we think about Local food? What is the value of being Local?

Tune in next week to find out how we answer these questions!

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