"Growing local" is not a new term. However, it has taken on a whole new meaning in recent years.
To most North Dakotans, like myself, growing local means enjoying the fruits of our labor by growing fresh vegetables in the back yard or purchasing at the local Farmers Market. But in today's world the term is quickly becoming more than that. Growing local is associated with creating a public local food source, creating a new revenue stream for local growers and supplying those in need with a steady food supply.
Food insecurity and simply just wanting to know where our food comes from are two reasons this phenomenon has gained such momentum.
Lori Scharmer serves as North Dakota State University Extension Service agent for Ward County.
So what exactly does locally grown food actually mean? It can be an arbitrary and vague term such as "natural," but according to Congress, which adopted an official definition of "local" in the 2008 Farm Bill, the total distance that a product can be transported and still be considered a locally or regionally produced agricultural food product is less than 400 miles from its origin, or within the state in which it is produced.
So you might ask, "What's in it for me?" Growing and creating a local food source beyond just growing produce for your own family has numerous health and financial benefits. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, direct-to-consumer marketing amounted to $1.2 billion in current dollar sales in 2007, compared with $551 million in 1997.
The following are a few statistics from the N.D. Department of Agriculture:
+ Fruits and vegetables purchased within 24 hours of harvest are much fresher than produce shipped long distances and stored for long periods. If left on the vine to ripen, produce has a taste and texture that is beyond the compare of products that have been grown for shipping and a longer shelf life.
+ Buying local is perceived by many consumers as benefiting the economy as well as themselves, both in terms of obtaining high-quality foods and supporting local producers.
+ The average food item travels 1,200 to 1,500 miles from the farm to your dinner plate. Lettuce grown in California and shipped to Washington, D.C., requires about 36 times as much fossil fuel for transportation than it provides in food energy. Today, some 817 million tons of food are shipped around the planet each year.
+ Expanding a locally grown food source provides great benefits to our communities, region and beyond. Consider being a part of this movement by adding an extra row of plants to your existing garden and marketing your extra produce or support the vendors at your local Farmers Market.
Consider sharing your bounty with a neighbor or contributing extra produce to the North Dakota Hunger Free Garden Project, which has a goal of contributing 500,000 pounds of produce to charitable feeding programs in 2011.
Contact the Ward County Extension office for more information on how to create or expand a local food source or how to be a part of a Hunger Free Garden Project.