What is a Local Food System?

Local Food Systems Connect the Chain between Growers and Consumers
From farm to table, community food systems address nutritional, economic, environmental, and social community needs locally and sustainably. Local food systems are one of the most important ways we can lead a connected life. Reconnecting to food, people, and our natural environment helps to preserve natural resources, strengthen communities, and increase our physical and mental health and well-being.

Our Disconnection from Food.
Over the last 50 years food production systems in Western countries have followed a trend towards industrialization. Where we were once 80 percent rural, we are now more than 90 percent urban. We are losing farmers every year, and people are becoming increasingly disconnected from the sources of their food. Children grow up without knowing where their food comes from or how it is produced. Changing economic conditions coupled with dislocation from food sources has lead to urban “food deserts” — areas of high poverty in which people cannot easily access fresh produce and healthy foods. In the past many poorer people grew their own food, or were able to glean local farmers’ fields, or neighbors might offer surplus produce from their gardens. Early food production systems involved cooperative activities. It was common for land, tools, and the harvest to be shared. Without local food systems these options don’t exist.

What is a Local Food System?
The term “food system” refers to all the processes involved in providing us with food: growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consuming, and disposal. It includes the inputs needed and outputs generated at each point. The system relies on human resources to provide labor, research, development, and education. Food systems do not operate in isolation but function within and are influenced by larger social, economic and natural environments.

The Benefits of a Local Food System
Local food systems provide ecological and economic benefits. When we localize food processes and use organic techniques we are able to improve the sustainability of the production system. Many current food production systems are unsustainable, both environmentally and economically. The use of chemicals, the creation of monocultures, heavy dependence on fossil fuels, soil-impoverishing farming techniques, corporate patents of non-traditional seeds; these practices deplete the natural viability of the land and place the food production system into unsustainable reliance on external imports and corporate management. A greater share of the food dollar has been increasingly captured by manufacturers, processors, and retailers to the point where current returns to farmers are too low to be economically sustainable. One of the reasons farmers are keen to be part of local food systems is because it is a way for them to reclaim a bigger share of the food dollar through direct marketing, local processing, and/or value-added products.

Local food systems foster community-level self-reliance and resilience, result in increased food security, and offer opportunities to support the livelihoods and well-being of people in the community. Local food systems inspire people to connect, to cooperate, and to care. We can know where our food comes from, how it was made, and meet (or be!) the people who made it.

(Adapted with permission from: slowmovement.com)