Every year, Danielle Waskowski pays about $300 to raise a steer that will provide beef for her family of six for the next 13 months.
Waskowski, who lives in Stow, is not a farmer, but a self-described “locavore” — a member of a growing population in Northeast Ohio of people who only eat food that is grown or produced locally.
For meat and produce, Waskowski said she goes to farms and farmers markets near Stow. For other food groups, she tries to shop as locally as possible. For example, Reiter Dairy, Lay’s, Smucker’s and Schwebel’s are all Ohio-based companies. A few times a year, she’ll surprise her children with oranges, but she makes sure the oranges were grown in the U.S.
Consumer demand for locally produced food has increased as farmers markets have become more mainstream, said Heather Neikirk, director of The Ohio State University Extension office in Portage County.
“The local food movement is growing,” she said. “People want to know the person who’s growing or raising their food, and they want to know how their food is grown.”
The nutritional benefits of eating fresh, locally grown food are significant, Neikirk said, but what people often overlook — the economic consequence — is equally important.
That’s why Sustainable Cleveland 2019 is trying to dramatically increase the percentage of locally produced food in restaurants, schools and consumer shopping carts. 2012 will be the sustainability campaign’s year of local food.
National initiatives are underway as well, with the Department of Agriculture announcing in June it will offer $10 million in grants for the Farmers Market Promotion Program, or FMPP, to help increase availability of local agricultural products in communities throughout the country.
“The key is understanding your local economy and knowing where you buy,” Neikirk said. “Shopping downtown Main Street might cost me 10 cents more, but that 10 cents stays in my community to support community programs. It’s all interconnected.”
Buying local also makes a lighter carbon footprint because fossil fuel inputs from travel, refrigeration and processing are dramatically reduced, she said.
Waskowski said her lifestyle was inspired by her father, Dave Waskowski, who owns Crooked River Grill in Munroe Falls and uses locally grown food in the restaurant as much as he can.
In Kent, Stahl’s bakery owner Cary James does the same. James, who sports the sign, “Welcome, locavores,” in her store window, buys the majority of her flour from a Kent milling company that gets all of its wheat from Ohio. She also frequents farmers markets and locally owned businesses.
“It would be hypocritical of me to tell customers, ‘Come on, support me — I’m your local bakery,’ if I didn’t do that with everybody else,” James said.
Waskowski researches before she buys, but she said buying local doesn’t have to be more time-consuming or expensive than another routine.
“If you go to Walmart, they sell Smucker’s; they sell Schwebel’s; they sell the local stuff,” she said. “Giant Eagle carries a lot of local products. You just have to keep your eyes open.”
Neikirk said many farmers offer community-supported agriculture programs, or CSAs, in which customers can pay one fee upfront and pick up produce every week throughout the season. Some farmers even offer online ordering and delivery.
“Start small. Just start with trying to fix at least one meal a week that uses all local products,” she said. “Start small and get educated.”
Contact Jessica White at [email protected]
10 reasons to buy locally grown foods
1. Locally grown food tastes and looks better.
Crops marketed close to home are picked at their peak and usually sold within 24 hours of harvesting. Food imported from far away must travel on trucks or planes and then stored in warehouses.
2. Local food supports local families.
The wholesale prices that farmers get for their products are usually very low, sometimes not more than the cost of producing them. Local farmers who sell directly to consumers cut out the middleman and can get full retail price for their food — which helps farm families afford to continue farming their land.
3. Local food builds trust.
With all the issues related to food safety and homeland security, there’s an assurance that comes from looking a farmer in the eye at the farmers market, or driving by the fields where your food comes from.
4. Local food builds community.
When you buy direct from a farmer, you’re engaging in a time-honored connection between eater and grower and you’re supporting a local business. Getting to know folks who grow your food helps you know more about the place you live. In many cases, it gives you access to a place where you can go to enjoy nature and the seasons, and to learn more about how food grows.
5. Local food preserves open space.
When farmers get paid more for their products by nearby shoppers, they’re less likely to sell farmland for development.
6. Local food keeps taxes down.
According to several studies, farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services, whereas most residential developments contribute less in taxes than the cost of required services.
7. Local food benefits the environment and wildlife.
Massachusetts farmers are leaders in the use of environmentally sound growing practices. Our farms encompass a patchwork of fields, meadows, woods, streams and ponds that provide essential habitat for wildlife.
8. Local food makes a lighter carbon footprint.
On average our food travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate. Moreover, each calorie of food produced requires an average of 10 calories of fossil-fuel inputs from travel, refrigeration and processing.
Purchasing locally grown food is a simple way to address the increasing expense of fossil fuels and the adverse effects of global warming from increased carbon emissions.
9. Local food preserves genetic diversity.
In industrial agriculture, plants are bred for their ability to ripen uniformly, withstand harvesting, survive packing and last a long time on the shelf, so there are only a few varieties in large-scale production. This leaves our food supply vulnerable to disease or disaster. Smaller local farms, in contrast, often grow many different varieties to provide a longer season, an array of colors, and the best flavors.
10. Local food is an investment in our future.
When you buy locally grown food, you’re helping to preserve the strength and character of our community for our children and grandchildren.
—Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources