Local Food Systems

What is a “local (or regional) food system”?

The term “local food system” (or “regional food system”) is used to describe a method of food production and distribution that is geographically localized, rather than national and/or international. Food is grown (or raised) and harvested close to consumers' homes, then distributed over much shorter distances than is common in the conventional global industrial food system. In general, local/regional food systems are associated with sustainable agriculture, while the global industrial food system is reliant upon industrial agriculture.

Local food production-distribution networks often start on smaller, sustainable family farms. Farm products are transported over shorter geographic distances, generally processed either on the farm itself, or with smaller processors. Sustainable/local food distribution networks rely on two primary markets: the direct-to-consumer market and the direct-to-retail, foodservice, and institution market.

The Direct-to-Consumer Market

The direct-to-consumer market is currently the most established sector of local food distribution.  FDirect-to-consumer means that all middlemen are cut out of the food distribution equation – farmers sell their products directly to consumers, rather than through third parties, such as grocery stores. Common direct-to-consumer operations include:

  • Farmers' Markets
    Farmers' markets are communal spaces in which multiple farmers gather to sell their farm products directly to consumers. Farmers' markets may be municipally or privately managed and may be seasonal or year-round. Farmers may have to pay a vendor’s (or other similar) fee to participate, and must usually transport their own farm products to the farmers' market site. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the number of farmers' markets in the US increased from 1,755 in 1994 to 7,175 in 2011.  F
  • Community Supported Agriculture
    Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) are direct-to-consumer programs in which consumers buy a “share” of a local farm’s projected harvest. Consumers are often required to pay for their share of the harvest up front; this arrangement distributes the risks and rewards of farming amongst both consumers and the farmer. CSA participants often pick up their CSA shares in a communal location, or the shares may be delivered directly to customers. The USDA estimates that there may be as many as 2,500 CSAs currently operating in the US.  F

(http://www.sustainabletable.org/254/local-regional-food-systems)