Re: How far is local?

In article <v02130508af139abdee08@[]> lcl3@cornell.edu (Lois Levitan) writes:

>I have been thinking about the use of  'local' as an indicator/proxy for at
>least three different enviro-social variables: (1) the vitality of rural
>socio-economic systems (ie---keep local farms producing and keep rural
>communities strong); (2) a mechanism for protection of open space
>(ie--economically-viable farms  are an antidote to real estate sprawl and
>thus protect open space and natural habitat; and (3) 'local' as a proxy for
>measures of energy inputs to agriculture, which are an environmental  cost
>of the food system.  (Life Cycle Assessment--LCL--is a related and
>relatively newer term covering some of the same territory as energy

I'm a big fan of buying (and selling) produce locally, but these
reasons strike me as being a big stretch.  The best reason to buy
locally is because it gives you goods of unquestionable freshness and
quality, and most or all of the money you spend goes directly to
a top-notch farmer.  These reasons are more than adequate in

The three you list strike me as being relatively weak and implausible:

1.  Buying "locally" doesn't keep rural systems strong, it keeps
LOCAL rural systems strong, which isn't the same thing at all.  You
are choosing farmers in your region over farmers elsewhere.  Are you
doing anything for farmers in general?  I don't see how.  So I'd just
buy from my favorite farmers, and not worry about overriding social

2. Buying local produce does not automatically protect "open space."
Many farms aren't in the least danger of development, so buying from
them doesn't protect anything.  Mine farm is in no danger of becoming
uban -- the soil is unsuitable, there's not enough water, and the
location is wrong.  I chose this neighborhood partly because of its
lack of development potential.  

Thus, buying my produce doesn't protect open space at all.  On the
other hand, farms that are being surrounded by development probably
can't afford to stay in business whether you patronize them or not.
When my great-grandfather's neighbor sold his orange orchard for
development, my great-grandfather's orchard was instantly reassessed
at the same value per acre, forcing him to sell the next year or go
broke.  More recently, Albany (Oregon) decided to put in city water
mains in an area that had mixed farmland and housing. They deicided
to levy water taxes based on road frontage, instantly forcing the
farmers in the neighborhood to sell.  This was such an ordinary
occurrance that I don't think the paper ever bothered to report it.

My point is that the basic operations of government are very hostile
to any farmland near town (even in the rare instances when the
Town Fathers aren't all real estate speculators themselves).  Buying
locally probably isn't enough to counterbalance the 16-ton Anvil
of the Law.  So, again, I'd just buy from my favorite farmers, giving
patronage to people who give me a good product, and not worry about
the rest.

3. I doubt that local farms are more efficient in terms of energy use.
Sure, with two identical farms, the distant one will have the highest
cost shipping produce to the consumer, but that doesn't mean that
they don't recoup the difference by other means -- lower cost of
inputs, lower energy costs, and so on.

But farms close to town, concentrating on the "locally grown" market,
aren't going to be as energy-efficient as a big mechanized farm.
They don't have to be, for one thing.  They probably don't have
enough acreage to run big machines efficiently, for another, because
the same investment buys much less land close to town.

But I suppose that if you stretch the definition of "local," I
suppose you could lots of big mechanized farms, and have an
energy-efficiency gain that's measurable.  But I don't see why you'd
consider energy costs to be more important than other costs, or why
you'd consider energy efficiency to be a particularly important
environmental metric.  

So (once more) I'd just buy from my favorite farmers.  A really good
apple knows no politics.  If you shop for quality alone, everything
else falls into place.

	-- Robert
Robert Plamondon, High-Tech Technical Writing, Inc. 
36475 Norton Creek Road * Blodgett * Oregon * 97326
robert@plamondon.com * (541) 453-5841 * Fax: (541) 453-4139