Vermont Business Magazine Which states are most into local food? That question is answered by the sixth annual Locavore Index, which ranks the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) in terms of their commitment to local food. The Index, which uses seven different data sets reflecting patterns of local food consumption, is researched and compiled by Strolling of the Heifers, a non-profit food advocacy organization based in Vermont. According to the 2017 Locavore Index, Vermont, Maine, Oregon, Montana and New Hampshire (in that order) demonstrate the strongest commitment to local food. Vermont has led the Index since its inception in 2012. Rounding out the top 10 are the District of Columbia, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Rhode Island.
Here is the 2017 Strolling of the Heifers Locavore Index ranking of the states (with the 2016 rank in parentheses):
“We’re based in Vermont,” says Orly Munzing, executive director of Strolling of the Heifers, “so of course we’re proud that Vermont comes in as No. 1. But our real purpose in compiling the Index is to spotlight local food trends throughout the country and to encourage more efforts in every state to spread the benefits of healthy local foods and strong local food systems.”
“Vermont’s agricultural economy is creating jobs, providing healthy food for Vermonters, and keeping viable the beautiful landscape for which we are known,” said Anson Tebbetts, Secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets. “We are proud of our farmers, and grateful to all the Vermonters who support local agriculture.”
The 2017 Index incorporates a new metric: the number of hospitals that have committed to sourcing food locally, relative to each state’s population. That information came from the organization Health Care Without Harm, which tracks the number of health care facilities that are purchasing and serving local foods through its Healthy Food in Health Care program, along with its sister organization Practice Greenhealth’s Healthier Hospitals Food Challenge.
Hospitals throughout the country have been moving toward purchasing more food locally, often with goals of spending 10 to 20 percent or more of their food budget locally. As the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Vermont’s hospitals have led this farm-to-patient movement, and the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems explains the benefits of their local food efforts in this video.
The Index’s use of hospital data drew a comment from Steven R. Gordon, President and CEO of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital in Brattleboro, Vt.: “Brattleboro Memorial Hospital is proud to be a leader in supporting local farms and producers of fresh and healthy food. Sourcing local produce not only supports our local economy but also helps our patients heal faster. Often times, when a person is ill or on various medications, their appetite diminishes and their tastes are altered. Providing our patients with in-season and locally-produced food allows us to provide meals with high flavor and nutrition.”
Another Vermont healthcare executive who formerly served as Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Roger Allbee of Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend, Vt., said: “Through the Locavore Index, Vermont has demonstrated that it is a leader in the local food movement. Healthcare institutions, like Grace Cottage, recognize the importance of serving locally produced and nutritious food to their patients and others.”
“Every year, we’re finding better, more reliable data to use in the Index,” said Martin Langeveld, principal researcher and compiler of the Index. “This year, it was hospitals’ use of local food. A similar effort has been under way at many colleges and universities, and we hope to add that that information next year.”
The hospital data produced strong upward moves for several states, Langeveld said. Among them were Washington (up 5 places), Michigan (+8), Nebraska (+6), Ohio (+8), and California (+8).
Along with the hospital data, the 2017 Index also incorporates updated information on the number of farmers markets, the number of CSAs, the number of food hubs — all compared on a per-capita basis — along with updated date for each state’s USDA grants relating to food production for local markets.
The index continues to include data from the USDA’s Census of Agriculture, including data on the dollar volume of direct-to-the-public food sales by farmers. But since this Census data has not been updated since 2012, its weight within the Index has been reduced. A new Census of Agriculture will take place later in 2017.
Strolling of the Heifers offers 10 reasons for people to increase their use of local foods, stressing that local foods are more sustainable, healthier, better for the environment and economically positive than foods sourced from large-scale, globalized food systems.
Strolling of the Heifers’ 10 reasons to consume more local foods:
- Supports local farms: Buying local food keeps local farms healthy and creates local jobs at farms and in local food processing and distribution systems.
- Boosts local economy: Food dollars spent at local farms and food producers stay in the local economy, creating more jobs at other local businesses.
- Less travel: Local food travels much less distance to market than typical fresh or processed grocery store foods, therefore using less fuel and generating less greenhouse gases.
- Less waste: Because of the shorter distribution chains for local foods, less food is wasted in distribution, warehousing and merchandising.
- More freshness: Local food is fresher, healthier and tastes better, because it spends less time in transit from farm to plate, and therefore loses fewer nutrients and incurs less spoilage.
- New and better flavors in each season: When you commit to buy more local food, you’ll discover interesting new foods, tasty new ways to prepare food, and a new appreciation of the pleasure of each season’s foods.
- Good for the gene pool and the soil: Local food encourages diversification of local agriculture which preserves genetic diversity and reduces the reliance on monoculture — single crops grown over a wide area to the detriment of soils.
- Attracts tourists: Local foods promote agritourism — farmers markets and opportunities to visit farms and local food producers help draw tourists to a region.
- Preserves open space: Buying local food helps local farms survive and thrive, keeping land from being redeveloped into suburban sprawl.
- Builds more connected communities: Local foods create more vibrant communities by connecting people with the farmers and food producers who bring them healthy local foods. As customers of CSAs and farmers markets have discovered, they are great places to meet and connect with friends as well as farmers!
The Components of the Index are:
- The number of hospitals that have pledged to source food locally whenever possible, either through the Healthy Food in Health Care program or the Healthier Hospitals Food Challenge, ranked on a per-capita basis.
- Direct-to-the-public food sales revenue at farms, including sales via farmstands, farmers markets, CSAs and online sales, calculated on a per-capita basis for each state.
- Farmers markets, which are generally cooperative efforts to market locally produced food in a central location where consumers can select and purchase food from multiple farm enterprises. The Index ranks farmers markets on a per-capita basis.
- CSAs (consumer-supported agriculture), which are cooperative agreements between farmers and consumers; consumers buy shares in a farm’s output, and have some say in what is grown. When crops come in, they are divided among shareholders according to the volume of their shares, and the rest may be sold at market. CSA farmers get revenue in advance to cover costs of tilling, soil preparation and seed. Shareholders get fresh produce grown locally and contribute to sustainable farming practices. CSAs are included in the Index on a per-capita basis for each state.
- Farm-to-School programs, in which schools buy and feature locally produced, farm-fresh foods. Participating schools usually also add nutrition, culinary and food science components to their curriculum, and may experiential learning opportunities such as farm visits, school gardens and composting. The Index includes includes, for each stage, both the percentage of school districts which have farm-to-school programs, and the average percentage of district food budgets spent on local food.
- Food hubs, which are facilities that handle the aggregation, distribution and marketing of foods from a group of farms and food producers in a region. Food hubs are often cooperatively owned, though many are private enterprises. Food hubs are also included on a per-capita basis.
- Know your Farmer, Know your Food grants and Specialty Food Block Grants are given by the USDA to help communities scale up local and regional food systems and strengthen their economies. They include funding for food hubs, farmers markets, individual farmers, farm cooperatives, schools and other entities. The Index ranks states on a per-capita basis for the total amount of grants received by each state over the period 2009-2016.
Sources for the data used in the Index includes two regularly updated U.S. Department of Agriculture databases for farmers markets and food hubs; the 2015 USDA Farm-to-School Census; the USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture; the U.S. Census bureau (July 2015 estimates of population); the California-based local food resource directory LocalHarvest, a frequently-updated database of CSAs; the USDA’s database of Know Your Farmer, Know your Food grants covering 2009-2014 and its listing of Specialty Food Block Grants for 2016; and the organization Health Care Without Harm for data on hospitals that prioritize local food.
The Index is calculated as the weighted average ranking in all of the component categories. The weighting is as follows: farmers markets per 100,000 — 10 percent; CSAs per 100,000 — 10 percent; Farm to School (product of participation rate and budget percentage) — 15 percent; Food Hubs per 100,000 — 5 percent; direct sales per capita — 25 percent; USDA Know-Your-Farmer and Specialty Food Block Grants grants per capita 20 percent; and hospitals sourcing food locally 15 percent. The full data set spreadsheet with formulas is available at www.strollingoftheheifers.com/locavoreindex.
About Strolling of the Heifers:
Strolling of the Heifers is a farm and food advocacy and economic development organization based in Brattleboro, Vermont, building a record, since 2002, of spotlighting the benefits of strong local food systems and encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship in farm and food businesses. While Strolling of the Heifers is best-known for a whimsical weekend of events built around an agriculturally-themed parade, featuring well-groomed heifer calves led by future farmers that takes place this year June 2-4, the organization has focused its year-round programs on economic development work in the farm and food sectors, with the specific goal of creating jobs by working to foster small business entrepreneurship. It does this through Windham Grows, a “business hatchery” currently working with its first cohort of small businesses, and through the Slow Living Summit (a farm/food entrepreneurship conference), and the Farm-to-Table Culinary Apprenticeship Program.
For information on the prior year Indexes, visit these pages:
Source: BRATTLEBORO, VT (May 15, 2017) — Strolling of the Heifers. On the web: www.StrollingoftheHeifers.com, www.SlowLivingSummit.org, www.WindhamGrows.org. The Index web page is: http://www.strollingoftheheifers.com/locavore/. For the full data set on which the Index is based, including ranking formulas, download this Excel sheet.