Is local enough? Some arguments for regional food systems

Is local enough? Some arguments for regional food systems

The concentrate on local food devices has been very good during the last decade, and the phenomenon has properly been given a whole lot of attention by consumers, researchers, and food supply chain participants. As a complement to the other papers in this issue, we devote our attention here to the concept of regional food systems. While many food system advocates use–and think of–the concepts as synonymous, we argue that such a merger obscures important distinctions and does not give a meaningful framework after which to create a more economically practical and environmentally sustainable meals system. We suggest that a regional food system includes “local” but operates in a larger, more comprehensive scale. Many of our arguments and assumptions have not been tested yet, but offer fruitful opportunities for analysis, ways to work together, and a useful research agenda.

Is local enough Some arguments for regional food systems

Is local enough Some arguments for regional food systems

We undertake this exploration in the context of regionalism (Wallis 2002), the framework for economical, policy, and software creation that responds to regional distinctions and wants, and encourages regional methods and alternatives (Hance, Ruhf, and Hunt 2006). Areas could be described in many ways; their boundaries are fluid, not rigid. A region may be defined by political or administrative boundaries–for example, counties, or the Appalachian Regional Commission; watersheds or bioregions–for example, Chesapeake Bay watershed; or culture–Cape Cod, the Big Apple. Regions may be composed of subregions. They overlap. They “nest” in larger regions. For example, the Berkshires and Cape Cod happen to be parts of Massachusetts, which is certainly portion of New England which is certainly portion of the Northeast Region. In comparison, local frequently is defined as a radius of 50-100 miles or regions within a state. For example, the US Department of Agriculture uses a 400-mile radius for certain Federal rural development loan programs. Community can also carry various connotations for consumers that are not always valid, such as for example direct-marketed, sustainable, and fresh.

Regionalism is specially highly relevant to food devices. Unlike in the developing and products and services sectors, which happen to be less reliant on the all natural capital and resource bases of particular regions, agri-food systems are characterized by “the geographic fixity of main factors in production, including suitable farmland, regional climate conditions, natural resource base, and proximity to main upstream industry” (Canning and Tsigas, 2000). As we argue below, topography, water availability, territory and different inputs, farm level, crop alternatives, and industry proximity will be operable at the regional level.

An ideal regional food system describes a system in which as much meals as possible to meet the population’s meals demands is produced, processed, distributed, and bought at multiple levels and scales within the region, leading to maximum resilience, minimum amount importation, and significant monetary and social go back to all stakeholders in your community. This is known as “self-reliance”–as opposed to “self-sufficiency” wherein everything eaten is supplied within the prospective area.

We discover that regional is a necessary but not adequate component of a regional meals system. Regional is bigger geographically and regarding functions–volume/supply, foodstuff needs, variety, source chains, markets, territory use, and insurance policy. A regional foodstuff system features multiple “locals” within circumstances, and those that cross express boundaries. Regional meals systems operate in relation to other regions as well as to the nationwide and global meals systems.

Regional Food System Dimensions

In this paper, we employ “regional” to refer to multi-state regions although we understand at different times regions will be defined differently. We see four crucial dimensions to the regional foodstuff system framework–food source, natural reference sustainability, economic creation, and diversity.

The first vital dimension is foodstuff needs and offer. As stated earlier, self-reliance is certainly reached by providing as a lot of the food in an area that is physically feasible without degrading the resource base. It is a way of looking at the food needs, or demands, of the population together with the food supply. It really is fairly simple to calculate dietary desires; we are able to make it considerably more practical and complicated by modeling a variety of different types of diets–for example, vegetarian–and including cultural preferences. The next step is calculating the quantity of acres of cropland, pasture, and fresh new or saltwater necessary to produce the dietary plan under present instances.

In 2007 Peters, Wilkins, and Fick reported that the brand new York land basic could support about 20% of the state’s inhabitants with a diet plan containing one-third not as much meat than at present (Peter, Wilkins, and Fick 2007). Using some of the same assumptions, the Greater Philadelphia 100-mile “food shed” consists of only 60% of the crop and pasture property had a need to feed the populace (Delaware Valley Regional Setting up Commission 2010). They are useful parameters to greatly help people figure out the limits or potential of a location to meet the true food desires of a people now and in the foreseeable future. A related notion is certainly food security, the initial meaning of which is definitely a country’s ability to create enough food–or the staple cereal foods–to support its populace. At least for the near future regional food reliability should come from native, regional, countrywide, and global amounts. Some native areas might be able to create a larger level of some food, but despite having more comprehensive farming and urban agriculture, it really is unlikely that they can produce the volume to make them self-reliant for his or her dietary needs. Among the obvious methods to expand volume level and assortment is to extend the geographic spot from which meals is definitely sourced in a sustainable method. Examples of this kind of thinking include the Great to Grow task in the Upper Mississippi River Valley (Fyksen 2008) in which geographers have got mapped the key areas in which crops are developed and processed across four claims, and the Eastern Seaboard job (USDA, ARS, 2009) that’s mapping and calculating where native production can connect with current and projected produce demand or not really, with an attention to seasonally distributed creation.

The second essential dimension of a regional meals system is the sustainability of terrain, energy, drinking water, and other solutions. It does not make sense to develop a new, alternative food system at any scale without needing that meals be made by sustainable methods, because without them the opportunity to produce food in the foreseeable future can be jeopardized. We focus on the availability and quality of land upon which the food supply is based. By definition, a region will have a larger land base than a local area to go toward meeting food production wants. But that terrain base must be kept for–and in–production. And that will require a regional procedure. Local land employ decisions are essential so you can get community buy-in and determining priority areas for preservation and agriculture economical development. But many local land employ decisions are created in a vacuum, and without any quantitative analyses of the area’s food or water demand and supply. In fact, localized control that favors creation can undermine an area’s food secureness. We believe a region may be the most readily useful unit of research for mapping area use and progress patterns and developments, and for marketing Smart Progress initiatives. Furthermore, a regional way could ideal address multi-network and multi-state priority areas or bioregions, and develop comprehensive land use and economic development plans.

Decreased energy employ and transportation period are being used as important arguments for local food. However, this argument can be challenged. Pirog and colleagues (Pirog, Van Pelt, Enshayan, and Cook 2001) looked at three food sources–national or global conventional, Iowa-based mostly regional, and Iowa-based localized. They revealed that the neighborhood system used considerably more strength and emitted considerably more carbon dioxide compared to the regional system as the trucks were more compact and required additional trips. Crucial efficiencies may be gained in, for example, aggregating sufficient volumes of supply, and back-hauling. Organic and natural Valley’s regional “milk pools” were produced in order that milk had not been hauled from the Northeast and various other areas to Wisconsin.

Actually, energy, land, normal water and marine reference control should, and in some cases do, happen at regional levels. From production capability to water pollution to fisheries, resource make use of and protection are not only local issues. Good examples exist of regional, often multi-state, source control initiatives: the Northeast Greenhouse Gas Initiative (, the Chesapeake Bay Method (, the fantastic Lakes Commission (, and multi-status regional setting up commissions.

A third dimension is certainly economic creation. A hallmark of a regionally targeted food program is that financial returns stay within the region. Making that happen requires addressing markets, new business versions, branding, infrastructure, financing, and trade. A regional food system is comprised of multiple marketing options for farms of all sizes that consist of local markets and also broader regional supply chains, thereby providing farmers with an increase of market prospects that perform out through numerous supply chain structures. In emphasizing the importance of new supply chain approaches to rural advancement, Marsden and his colleagues tout the advantages of ‘short food supply chains’ that ‘short circuit’ lengthy and complex commercial chains (Marsden, Banks, and Bristow 2000). Short food supply chains accomplish this definitely not by lessening the quantity of times the meals is taken care of or the length it travels but by embedding facts in the merchandise via its label. They distinguish three key types of solution chains:

1. Face-to-deal with: personal interactions such as farmers’ marketplaces or farm stands;

2. Spatial proximity: consumers are made aware of regional or regional origin at stage of sale such as through signs or symptoms in supermarkets; and

3. Spatially expanded: value about the merchandise and host to production is transmitted to consumers outside of the region, for example, Vidalia onions.

In a regional meals system, consumers wouldn’t normally often “Know [Their] Farmer” face-to-face, because they purchase items that they understand as “spatially proximate.” In this situation, regional identification has worth in the meals marketplace to customers and producers.

A regional food system is based in “place”–as is an area food system–but the “place” is certainly conceived considerably more broadly. Products could be differentiated, and get a premium, regarding to place-based mostly branding that takes on to the competitive features of a locale, aswell for specific product attributes, for example “grassbased,” IPM (Integrated Pest Management), or organic. Both add value for supply chain partners and consumers. Place-centered branding can apply to various geographic areas and scales from the very local to multiple claims, for example Lancaster County, or the fantastic Lakes.

Much emphasis possesses been located on the dearth of infrastructure such as for example community/professional kitchens and digesting facilities to aid local foodstuff initiatives. For wide economic creation, regionally scaled infrastructure such as for example meat, fish, develop, and dairy processing, aggregation, warehousing, and manufacturing services, and distribution networks for bigger volumes of regional products are needed. The optimal scale, area, and design of fresh infrastructure depend on multiple factors, which is why financial development and source arranging at the regional level are crucial. One would expect even more capital to be available for agri-food ventures at the regional rather than regional level, and a higher total accrual of financial returns. We think that states and monetary development organizations that reach beyond parochialism to cooperate on learning, financing, siting, and taking care of food system-related monetary production initiatives across talk about lines would check out cost benefits through, among other activities, lower capital requirements, transportation-efficient spots, and full make use of processing/distributing capacity.

Regional foodstuff economies also include the notion of trade–the importing and exporting of items within and across regions. Trade is critical for most reasons including using the production features of certain states–for example milk creation in Vermont that much exceeds the population’s need to have. As pointed out earlier, no location will end up being self-sufficient, thus trade, including countrywide and global somewhat, must get those important products right into a region.

Diversity may be the previous dimension and a cornerstone of a regional foodstuff system. In a more substantial region a wider variance of foods could be produced and prepared, especially if the spot crosses latitudes. Various areas have a different population bottom that seeks usage of sufficient and culturally appropriate foods. Because the production acreage to draw from is more intensive and the types of farms, soils, climates, and crops a lot more different than in the instant community, the probability of meeting this aim is elevated at the regional level.

Diversity is crucial in another method: it gives resilience. Diversity supplies power to food devices since it preserves options which allow for flexibility and resiliency–the ability to persist through continuous development in the face of change. Climate change has already begun to test the power of communities that hadn’t previously faced this problem to partition drinking water supplies. Challenges of the magnitude should be resolved at least at regional amounts.

Scale is important to resiliency. A resilient food program requires components of varied scales, very much like several sized stones produce a firm roadbed. Connectivity is another necessary facet, requiring that various scales interact and “talk to each other” (Newman and Dale 2009). Institutional and social capacity must exist at all scales within the food system to allow self-organization and adaptation. Thinking regionally catalyzes additional resources, and in addition enables resource efficiency, for example, in the case of financially strapped property grant universities sharing agricultural specialists or laboratories.

These four dimensions–food supply, organic resource sustainability, economic advancement, and diversity–are important elements of a regional food system style. Underpinning these descriptors is certainly a couple of values that incorporate stewardship, collateral, conservation, and prospect. For example, economical development should make an effort to support home based business relationships predicated on fairness and transparency through the entire supply chain–models referred to as value chains or values-based food supply chains. Trade should exemplify the concepts of domestic fair trade, addressing the treatment of all employees in the meals system.

We acknowledge that food program transactions happen at multiple amounts and scales, but we feel that “regionalizing” the food system–emphasizing and focusing on regions–may be the optimal model to meet the goals of a sustainable, secure, and resilient food system. In our framework, regional and regional are different. That difference enables both greater crucial thinking about food systems and greater opportunity to develop genuinely sustainable ones. The idea of food devices is within an exciting and imaginative period. Along with that creative imagination comes issues for producers, buyers, supply chain individuals, experts, planners, and policymakers. For instance, “buy native” resonates with many customers, providing lucrative market segments for several items, valuable romantic relationships between producers and buyers, and some monetary reward to selected communities. The downside at the moment is normally that regionally developed foods not recognized as “local” are not sufficiently identified or desired in the marketplace. Exceptions include effective regional enterprises like Nation Organic Beef and Shepherd’s Grain. Therefore if the berry is not “local” consumers are neither encouraged nor motivated to distinguish or value where it came up from–a neighboring network, state, or region. On the in addition side, the conditions “regional” and “local and regional” happen to be being used more often. Consider USDA Secretary Vilsack’s FY 2011 Budget Overview and Annual Efficiency Plan’s strategic objective to “[develop] regional and regional meals systems” (USDA 2010), and New England’s agriculture commissioners ending up in USDA about “how exactly to develop regional foodstuff devices” (USDA The Boston World 2010 USDA meets with NE commissioners on regional foodstuff).

A regional framework presents a perspective and an operating template for a more substantial and sustainable foodstuff system. Quite a few assumptions and hypotheses contain certainly not been explored or examined, and we want to prevent the “regional trap” of ascribing unfounded virtues to the procedure. (See “Avoiding the Regional Trap”, Born and Purcell 2006). In the Northeast, a research working group has brought jointly scholars and researchers who are communicating, getting together with, compiling a list of existing food systems research regarding the spot, and forming a study agenda (Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Functioning Group). Such efforts are essential to develop a solid analytical and practical foundation for food systems work. We believe a regional food system is greater than the sum of its “locals.” We also believe it offers real promise to foster fundamental change in the way we feed ourselves.


Born, B. and Purcell, M. (2006). Preventing the localized trap. Journal of Preparation Education and Analysis, 262, 195-207.

Canning, P. and Tsigas, M. (2000). Regionalism, federalism, and taxation a meals and farm point of view. United States Division of Agriculture Economic Analysis Service. Obtainable online:

Delaware Valley Regional Preparation Commission. (2010). The higher Philadelphia food system study.

Fyksen, J. (2008). Wisconsin ‘Good to Grow’ to capture consumer hunger for regional food. Agri-View. February 20, 2008. Available online: news/crops02.txt

Hance, A., Ruhf, K., and Hunt, A. (2006). Regionalist approaches to farm and food policy: a focus on the Northeast. Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. Available online:

Marsden, T., Banks, T., and Bristow, G. (2000). Food supply chain approaches: exploring their role in rural development. Sociologia Ruralis 40(4), 424-438.

Newman, L. and Dale, A. (2009). Large footprints in a small world: toward a macroeconomics of scale. Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy 5(1). Obtainable online: /0803-011.newman-print.html.

Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Performing Group.

Peters, C., Wilkins, J., and Fick. G. (2007) Examining a complete-diet style for estimating the area reference requirements of foodstuff intake and agricultural holding capacity: the brand new York State case in point. Renewable Agriculture and Foodstuff Systems 22(2), 145-152.

Pirog, Rich, Van Pelt, T., Enshayan, K., and Make, E. (2001). Food, gas and freeways: an Iowa perspective on how far food travels, fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions. Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Available online: mil.pdf.

USDA meets with NE commissioners on regional food. (2010, January 30). The Boston Globe.

United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Study Support. (2009). In the eastern United States: a multi-faceted focus on farms and food. Agricultural Research, 57(8), 4.

United States Department of Agriculture. (2010). Office of Spending budget and Program Evaluation.

Wallis, A.(2002). The new regionalism: inventing governance structures for the early Twenty-first Century. Available online: regionalism.pdf.

Kate Clancy ( is certainly a Food Devices Consultant and Senior Fellow, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. Kathryn Ruhf ( is certainly Coordinator of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Performing Group.

Clancy, Kate^Ruhf, Kathryn

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