In recent years, local food movements have seen exponential growth all around the world as consumers have become increasingly concerned with where their food comes from and how it is produced. While there are many different definitions of “local food,” it’s usually understood as something more than just a geographical concept. Generally, the term is used to describe a collaborative effort by a group, community, or region to build more self-reliant food economies in which sustainable food production and consumption is integrated to enhance economic, environmental, and social health.
Like all specialized initiatives, the local food movement and local food systems come with their own particular vocabulary that can be confusing to navigate if you’re new to the ideas being discussed. Read on for a look at nine of the most important terms and phrases that can help you understand what the local food movement is all about.
While “local” does not necessarily mean “sustainable,” the local food movement is usually closely entwined with sustainable agricultural practices. Sustainable agriculture involves taking a holistic, ecosystem-wide approach to agriculture by avoiding practices that can cause environmental degradation and damage, like excessive soil tilling that leads to erosion, and focusing on practices that promote long-term human and environmental health. The central goal of sustainable agriculture is to be able to meet society’s present food needs without compromising the ability or capacity of future generations to do the same.
One of the main driving factors behind the rise of local food movements has been increased concerns about food security, which relates to individual and community access to the available supply of food. People have food security when they have consistent access to enough safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. “Access” usually includes both physical and economic access, and the food in question should be able to meet both dietary needs and personal preferences.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Community supported agriculture is a food production and distribution model that has become hugely popular in recent years. A typical CSA involves community members purchasing shares or memberships in a local farm; in exchange, they receive a weekly box of seasonal produce or other farm products throughout the growing season. Consumers benefit from a CSA by having access to fresh, local produce and the opportunity to form relationships with local farmers and other community members. In turn, farmers benefit because their “subscribers” share in the risks of farming, meaning that a poor harvest won’t jeopardize a farmer’s livelihood.
Community food assessment
The goal of a community food assessment is to engage an entire community in the process of discovering who in their community has access to what kind of food, and how they access it. The ideal result of such an assessment is the development of an action plan for a local, healthy food system that serves and benefits all members of the community.
Food, Education, Agriculture Solutions Together (FEAST)
Another community-based organizing process, a FEAST initiative engages participants in a facilitated discussion about the different aspects of their local food system. The idea behind the process is to help participants identify and work towards actionable solutions for a healthy, fair, and sustainable food system.
Farm to School
More and more communities are trying to make discussions and educational programs around local food a part of the school system: these efforts are usually classified under the umbrella term “farm to school.” Farm to school initiatives help empower students to begin making healthy, local food choices from a young age by exposing them to opportunities like maintaining a school garden, taking cooking lessons, and going on field trips to local farms.
An emerging innovative business model, food hubs are specifically designed to provide critical infrastructure support to local or small-scale farmers. Many such farmers simply do not have the resources to seek out broader markets for the goods they produce: food hubs help fill this gap by connecting local food producers with buyers at the local or regional level. This allows local products to be sold in more places throughout a community, such as grocery stores and restaurants, and thus increases community access to fresh, local food.
Usually known simply as a food co-op, a food cooperative is a collectively owned grocery store. There are a number of different organizational styles, but most food co-ops are based on common values like social responsibility, equality, group management and decision-making, and helping make sustainable foods more affordable.
Food Policy Council
A Food Policy Council is typically made up of a diverse group of stakeholders working to improve their community’s food environment. In broad terms, a Food Policy Council examines the operation of the local food system and makes policy-based recommendations to legislators about how the system could be improved.