Local food is food produced close to where it’s consumed, often joined with a robust social structure and distribution system different from the larger-scale retail food system. People who consume local food are characterized by high community involvement, localized economies and preferences for local or regional produce. They value the sustainable production and consumption of food as a reflection of their own local culture. The key to long term sustainability of local food lies in encouraging local producers and consumers and providing access to affordable, quality local food. Many local food projects run on the public-interest, community and environmental foundations and involve a wide range of people, including women, children, farmers and community organizers. The groups promote policy changes, increase local investment in rural development, and build and strengthen cooperative groups that bring diverse groups of people together to face the challenges and opportunities of local food.
The first challenge facing local food producers and consumers is the lack of understanding about local food. For example, many assume they can “click on” to the producer’s website and get access to all of the food they could ever need, whether it be organic, local, free range or local wild bird foods, organic berries and locally produced grains. While this is certainly convenient, many producers and consumers have no idea how their food is farmed or produced, what technologies and what government policies dictate the production of the food they eat. It is essential to understand the production process and share knowledge with others who may not be familiar with the nuances of organic agriculture or the differences between free range and commercial agriculture.
Another challenge facing local food producers and consumers relates to access. Many people work long hours and find it difficult to travel long distances to visit local food sources or harvest their own food. Some also want to engage in more direct interactions with the people growing and processing their food, whether it be at farm markets, fairs or cookouts. With these concerns in mind, it has been made available for consumers who want to grow and buy food to have access to quality produce in grocery stores, farmer’s markets and online. As the Internet becomes more popular, more local food will start to be manufactured and distributed online.