Localize food sources to address human health, agricultural pollution, food apartheid, climate change, and cultural and biological diversity.
Localization reconnects families and communities with nutritious, fair, regenerative, and regionally produced food. For centuries, diverse seasonal crops were grown sustainably to be shared and consumed locally. Industrialism overthrew these local and regional food systems in favor of mass-produced monocultures that are traded and consumed globally. A movement is under way to relocalize our food. People are joining for many reasons, but chiefly because no other activity encompasses a greater range of benefits for life, health, soil, water, children, and the planet. Localization includes home and community food gardens, farmers’ markets, in-person and internet-based co-ops, community-supported agriculture (CSA), urban farming, and farm-to-table and pier-to-plate programs for schools and other institutions. Collectively, localization has the potential to transform food systems by supporting regional regenerative agriculture, fairer and shorter supply chains, and local decision making.
Learn about the benefits of localization. In developed nations, agriculture remained largely local until the advent of railroads, followed by the refrigeration of produce and the development of long-haul trucking, all of which opened up distant markets. Food became a commodity, and age-old relationships between people and their food broke down. Today, nearly three billion people do not have access to local, healthy food or cannot afford it if they do. Localization is a response to industrial agriculture, including the rise of factory farming and ultra-processed foods. One of the movement’s founders, Alice Waters, pioneered the farm-to-table movement in the United States. Individuals, farmers, nonprofits, and governments are now actively promoting localization. It allows people to learn more about and support agroecological farming methods. It allows growers and farmers to connect directly with families and communities and spread awareness of the many benefits of regenerative agriculture. There are many reasons to localize food, including:
- Human health. Local food often retains more nutrients because it is allowed to ripen fully before being picked and often is grown seasonally. When produced organically, it contains no pesticides, which is better for your health. Farmers often use varieties of crops that are locally adapted, including heirloom species that are nutritionally dense (see Eating Plants Nexus).
- Better for the soil. When local farmers and ranchers use organic, regenerative, and agroecological methods to produce food it builds soil health, reduces pollution, and improves water quality and quantity, among many other benefits. (see Regenerative Agriculture Nexus and Agroecology Nexus).
- Better taste. Local food is fresh and therefore tastes better than food shipped from distant farms. Depending on the type of produce, freshness can make the food sweeter, juicier, and more savory. Other types of local food, such as eggs, also benefit from freshness.
- Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Localized food often requires less packaging, processing, refrigeration, and transportation than the industrial food system, which can reduce global food emissions. Transportation of food between countries contributes to nearly 20 percent of global food emissions. However, food miles are not the only indicator of emissions impact. Imported food produced regeneratively may be a better choice than industrial local food.
- Support for local economies. Purchasing locally grown foods allows money to stay close to home and to be reinvested within the community. Localization also supports local job creation and higher annual revenues for small-farms.
- Strengthening of social ties and civic engagement. Local food systems create a wide range of social, educational, and civic impacts. Interactions between local farmers and consumers through farmers’ markets, food cooperatives, or direct marketing can strengthen community bonds.
- Addressing social justice. Many communities of color do not have access to healthy, affordable food (see Food Apartheid Nexus). Closely related is the struggle for food sovereignty, which dates back centuries, when Indigenous cultures were displaced from their lands and their foodways replaced by Western, industrial food systems. Many localization efforts are centered on restoring food sovereignty and addressing food insecurity and injustice.
Grow your own food. The best way to support the local food movement is to grow food yourself. Start a garden. There are many resources for beginning gardeners and many types of foods that can be grown. Here is an article about gardening with heirloom vegetables. Here is an example of an heirloom seed company. Here is a book about growing a wide variety of tomatoes. Here is a book about growing perennial vegetables (see Perennial Crops Nexus).
Buy food that is grown locally. Support local food producers by shopping at farmers’ markets, through community-supported agriculture (CSA), food cooperatives, or by buying directly from a local rural or urban farm (see Urban Farming Nexus).
- Learn where your food comes from and prioritize local by reading labels and talking with your grocer. Cook for Good rates the best grocery stores for local, organic food in North Carolina and throughout the southeastern U.S.
- You can locate a multitude of farmers’ markets throughout the U.S. and in nine other countries here.
- Slow Food, based in Italy, has eighty-eight Earth Markets in thirty countries that operate in accordance with the principles of Slow Food.
- Find a local CSA in the U.S. with the USDA National Directory of CSAs. Here is a network of CSA farms across the UK.
- Southeast Asia has a long history of wet markets as a source of fresh, local ingredients for home cooks and professional chefs.
- EcoAgro is an online ordering platform in Paraguay that connects customers to 250 farming families.
- Pick Your Own has listings of such farms throughout the U.S. and Canada, and in twenty-four more countries.
- The Seasonal Food Guide lists the produce available in the U.S. during different months of the year. This crop availability calendar lists specific dates of upcoming crops for each state. My Green Australia has a seasonal fruit and vegetable guide.
Start or join a local food cooperative. A food cooperative (co-op) is collectively owned by people who shop there. Many co-ops purchase local food from multiple vendors, often at higher product standards.
- Sustain UK has created a toolkit for starting a food co-op.
- Rizoma Cooperative in Portugal is a multi-sector cooperative grocery store.
- The Viroqua Food Co-op in Wisconsin has been providing healthy food to their community since 1995.
- Here is a list of twenty food co-ops helping to build resilient communities, including the African Heritage Co-op in Buffalo, N.Y.; the Blue Mountains Co-op in Australia; the Manyeding co-op in South Africa; the La Montanita Co-op in New Mexico; and the Rainbow Co-op in San Francisco. A full listing of co-oops in the U.S. is provided by the National Co+op Grocers Association.
Forage and glean local foods. A rich diversity of wild or uncultivated foods can be foraged locally, from urban areas to the backcountry. Gleaning is harvesting foods that would otherwise go to waste, from city fruit trees to leftover crops on farms.
- Learn how to gather wild foods ethically and safely with The Forager's Toolkit, or find an experienced local forager.
- Discover how to cook wild foods from North America and Europe as well as Southeast Asia.
- Forgotten Greens, based in India, connects people with wild plants.
- In the U.S., find a local gleaning group with this Nationwide Gleaning and Food Recovery Map; in the UK with the Go Gleaning map; and in Canada with the Gleaning Fresh Food list.
- Volunteers in Toronto, Canada, with Not Far from the Tree pick fruit from private trees all around the city and share it with the owners and local food banks.
Farmers and Ranchers
Build relationships with local customers. Relationships benefit farmers by revitalizing the way local consumers shop and eat. During the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers banded together to deliver food directly to their customers via digital systems.
- Directly market your food. Over 147,000 farms in the U.S. directly market their products. In 2020, farmers grew and sold $9 billion of local food directly to consumers, retailers, institutions, and others in the U.S. There many different ways to directly market your product, as this overview and this guide from the USDA and this example from Virginia show.
- Start a CSA. Learn how to create a CSA in the U.S. with this Community Supported Agriculture Resource Guide for Farmers. In Europe, Urgenci has produced a detailed Trainer’s Guide for CSAs. Shared Harvest Farm in Beijing, China, and farmers from South Catarina, Brazil, are some examples of farms providing fresh produce, meat, and food products via CSAs. The Uozomi family's agroecological teikei farm in Japan have formed a working partnership with their local customers using a Japanese model of a CSA.
- Create or join a local farmers’ market in your area. Learn how to create and manage a farmers’ market with this Market Management Toolkit from the Washington State Farmers Market Association. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has a guide to setting up farmers’ markets in Mexico. One of the most popular farmers’ markets in Brazil is the Mercado Municipal de Sao Paulo.
- Join or start a local food hub. Food hubs connect farmers with customers by aggregating, processing, distributing, and marketing locally grown foods. The Food Systems Leadership Network has a resource library. The Melbourne Food Hub operates in Australia. Profound Foods is the largest food hub/farmers’ market in North Texas. BAZAAR is a regional food network in Nepal that supports member farms with supply-chain management and digital platforms.
- Organize farm tours for your farm or ranch. Find out how to create a successful farm tour with this article from Oregon State University. In northwestern Indiana, Fair Oaks Farms offers comprehensive tours.
- If you live in a city, consider starting an urban farm. There are many types of agriculture that can be successful in urban settings. For much more information see Urban Farming Nexus.
Provide healthy, fresh food to neighboring institutions. Supplying nourishing, local, regenerative food is a major growth opportunity for farms and ranches of all sizes. It is also healthier for your customers and the environment (see Regenerative Agriculture Nexus and Grasslands Nexus for more suggestions).
- Farm to Fork programs are a great way to get produce to local institutions. Here is a guide from Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) on how to build one. Here is a description of farm-to-school programs in Florida.
- Pier to Plate programs connect local fishers with customers. The Cape Cod Fisherman’s Alliance enables people to buy products right at docks.
Provide training opportunities for young farmers and ranchers. It is difficult to join the localization movement as a new farmer, particularly due to high land costs. Established organic and regenerative farmers and ranchers can help by providing apprenticeships and internships in their operation so a new farmer can learn the necessary skills. Here are models:
- The Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian program offers eight-month, full-immersion apprenticeships on regenerative farms and ranches across the American West.
- Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Virginia offers five-month internships as well as a full-time master’s program.
- The National Young Farmers Coalition works to link new and minority farmers with educational, financial, and land-based resources in the U.S.
- The Tallgrass Network provides training opportunities for people interested in regenerative ranching.
- The Rodale Institute offers training program in organic agriculture on their farm.
Restaurants, Schools, and Other Institutions
Prioritize buying regenerative food from local small-scale farmers, ranchers, and other food producers. Schools, universities, hospitals, prisons, and retirement homes can all source local food:
- Growing Minds connects farmers, distributors, and school food leaders to ensure that students have access to local healthy food.
- National Farm to School Network works to bring local food sourcing and food and agricultural education into school systems and early- care environments.
- Learn about thirty innovative farm-to-school programs from across the globe.
- North Carolina State University Extension has a guide about the benefits of creating a farm-to-university program.
- This guide will help you to find a service provider for your company cafeteria that sources local, healthy, fresh food.
- Learn how to provide healthy food options for your employees.
- There are many benefits in helping employees plant a corporate garden.
- The Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program at the University of California, Davis has case studies of successful farm-to-hospital programs.
- Bethlehem Woods in La Grange Park, Illinois, provides their residents with fresh local food that is cooked from scratch.
Buy food for your business from organic and regenerative farms and ranches. Companies, including restaurants, cafeterias, and grocery stores, can play an important role in localization efforts by virtue of their purchasing power and integration into supply chains. Examples include:
- Bird-friendly beef, such as Audubon’s Conservation Ranching program, Blue Nest Beef, and American Farmland Trust’s Sustainable Grazing Project.
- Here is a buying guide from the Audubon Society.
- Grass-fed, organic, and regenerative food products, such as Panorama Meats, Farm Foods Market, Crowd Cow; grassland beef from US Wellness Meats; and exotic meats from Fossil Farms, Silver Fern Farms (NZ), Verde Farms (Uruguay), Finca Sarbil (Spain), and Bloomplaats (South Africa).
- Here is a directory of farms and ranches in the U.S. and Canada that produce and sell grass-fed meat, dairy, and other products
Provide grants, loans, and long-term leases for land. Local ownership of land for small-scale farmers and ranchers is the foundation of a local food system.
- The USDA’s Farm Service Agency provides Direct Farm Ownership Loans that are used to buy a farm or ranch or enlarge an existing farm or ranch. It also gives Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production Grants.
- The City of Cleveland, Ohio, leases vacant land for farming.
- Vermont Land Trust works with farmers to protect Vermont’s most productive land.
Implement policies that prioritize local farmers, food producers, and consumers.
- Modify zoning laws. Effective zoning laws can increase local food security and production. Seattle, Washington, modified its land use code to expand opportunities for urban agriculture.
- Provide space for farmers’ markets. Creating community space that serves as a destination for farmers’ markets can help to connect local growers and consumers. The City of Chicago encourages farmers’ markets as essential businesses that increase neighborhood access to fresh and healthy food.
- Offer space for community gardens. Community gardens are a great way for cities to increase local food security and improve public health. Casey, Australia, has a created a comprehensive Community Gardens Policy.
- Support local, responsible seafood and fishing communities. Cities, towns, and counties across the UK are joining the Sustainable Fish Cities campaign to become places where local, sustainable fish is promoted and served. Rhode Island has undertaken a regional seafood marketing and promotion campaign.
- Support farm-to-fork programs as part of government agencies. California has an Office of Farm-to-Fork that is part of its Department of Food and Agriculture. The European Union has a Farm to Fork strategy that includes a legislative framework.
Prioritize local regenerative food in public institutions. Food procurement policies that prioritize local, fresh food support the local food system and economy while making a strong statement about the importance of eating healthy food.
- Read about six correctional facilities in the U.S. with farm-to-prison programs.
- There is a vibrant movement of prison vegetable gardens across the country that provide inmates with satisfying work, marketable skills, and fresh food.
Change national food policy. The kind of food that we eat is heavily influenced by the prevailing food and agricultural policies. Enacting policies that prioritize local growers can include changing zoning laws, conducting land inventories, and offering financial incentives.
- Check out this political Action Toolkit from Good Food Good Farming.
- The Healthy Food Policy Project has a searchable database of healthy food policies at the local level from around the US.
- New Zealand has implemented a variety of local healthy food policies.
- Join or create a local, statewide, or national localization organization or a local food policy council, such as the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, or the Fundacion Alternativas, a local food policy council in La Paz, Bolivia.
Dave Chapman, founder of Long Wind Farm
Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder and director of Local Futures
Jamila Norman, operator and founder of Patchwork City Farms
Taylor and Jake Mendell, of Footprint Farm
Vandana Shiva, president of Navdanya International
Edward Mukiibi, president of Slow Food International
Tom Cannon, no-till producer in Oklahoma
Keith Berns, of Green Cover Seed
Charlene Tan, founder of Good Food Community
Local Futures (global)
Slow Food International (global)
Pick Your Own (global)
Food Is Free Project (global)
Pan Asia Pacific (Malaysia)
Local Harvest (U.S.)
Navdanya International (India)
Farmer's Footprint (Australia)
The Localising Food Project (New Zealand)
Food Tank (U.S.)
Local Catch Network (North America)
Planting Justice (U.S.)
Shared Earth (U.S.)
Good Food Good Farming (European Union)
Edible Communities (North America)
Food First (U.S.)
Roots of Change (U.S.)
Edible Garden City (Singapore)
Fresh (72 mins.)
Schools as Community Food Hubs (16 mins.)
Open-Source Front-Yard Community Gardens (3 mins.)
Mother Earth: New Future for Small Farmers (30 mins.)
Gather (3 mins.)
What Are Wild Foods? (3 mins.)
How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden (13 mins.)
How Councils Can Support a Good Food Economy (97 mins.)
"What Is BUGS?," Baltimore Urban Gardening with Students
"Who Will Feed Us?," ETC Group
"Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs," National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
"Localization, Food Sovereignty, and Food Systems Transformation," by Arnold Padilla of Pan Asia Pacific
"From Farm to Table," by Rowan Jacobsen
"Food Co-ops + Collectives: 3 Models of Community Food Systems," by Kirsten Bradley
"Pocket City Farms," Farmer’s Footprint Australia
"Global Database for City and Regional Food Policies," University at Buffalo
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