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Published May 18, 2012, 12:00 AM

‘Locavore’ movement grows

MONTPELIER, Vt. – A committed “locavore,” Robin McDermott once struggled to stock her kitchen with food grown within 100 miles of her Vermont home. She once drove 70 miles to buy beans and ordered a bulk shipment of oats from the neighboring Canadian province of Quebec.

By: Associated Press, INFORUM

MONTPELIER, Vt. – A committed “locavore,” Robin McDermott once struggled to stock her kitchen with food grown within 100 miles of her Vermont home. She once drove 70 miles to buy beans and ordered a bulk shipment of oats from the neighboring Canadian province of Quebec.

Six years later, she doesn’t travel far: She can buy chickens at the farmers market, local farms grow a wider range of produce, and her grocery store stocks meat, cheese and even flour produced in the area. A bakery in a nearby town sells bread made from Vermont grains, and she’s found a place to buy locally made sunflower oil.

Nationwide, small farms, farmers markets and specialty food makers are popping up and thriving as more people seek locally produced foods. More than half of consumers now say it’s more important to buy local than organic, according to market research firm Mintel, and Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan called the local food movement “the biggest retail food trend in my adult lifetime.”

But with no official definition for what makes a food local, the government can’t track sales. And consumers don’t always know what they are buying. A supermarket tomato labeled “local” may have come from 10, 100 or more miles away.

Strict locavores stick to food raised within a certain radius of their home – 50, 100 or 250 miles. Others may allow themselves dried spices, coffee or chocolate.

“I don’t treat it as a religion,” said Valerie Taylor, of Montgomery, Ohio, who tries to eat locally when she can but won’t go without a salad in the winter or an avocado if she wants it. She estimated 95 percent of the meat and 70 percent of the produce she eats is local in the summer but not in the winter.

Two of the more common standards used by locavores are food produced within 100 miles or within the same state that it’s consumed. A new locavore index ranked Vermont as the top state in its commitment to raising and eating locally grown food based on the number of farmers markets and community-supported agriculture farms, where customers pay a lump sum up front and receive weekly deliveries of produce and other foods.

Vermont has 99 farmers markets and 164 CSAs, with a population of fewer than 622,000, according to the 2012 Strolling of the Heifers Locavore Index, which relies on U.S. Department of Agriculture and census figures. Iowa, Montana, Maine and Hawaii rounded out the top five.

But the bottom of the index raises questions. Florida, which produces much of the nation’s citrus, strawberries and tomatoes, was in the bottom five with only 146 farmers markets and 193 CSAs for 18.5 million people.

The locavore movement grew out of consumer concerns about how and where food is produced, following episodes of contamination in spinach, meat and other foods. People committed to it buy locally produced foods to support farmers, because the food is fresher, and to reduce the environmental effect of trucking it across country.

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