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Vermont's foodshed strives to include more local food, but what defines local?

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You're at the grocery store and you need strawberries. You usually buy local food, but the store is out of local strawberries-your choices are strawberries from a few sates away or Argentina. Which do you choose? Next to the strawberries are blueberries from your state. Can you alter your recipe to include something local?

Labeling local food is important to consumers as well as producers, processors, distributors, and retailers along the value chain. But local food has different meanings for different people. Early localvores often used a 30, 50 or 100 mile radius, while others believe local to be a broader, more regional concept.

The Farm to Plate Strategic Plan is Vermont's statewide food systems plan to increase economic development and jobs in Vermont’s farm and food sector and improve access to healthy local food for all Vermonters. The Farm to Plate Strategic Plan aligns with the State of Vermont's definition of local: food that is produced or processed within a 30 mile radius of any given locale. So when you take the perspective of the state as a whole, this means that "local" is "Vermont+30 miles"; which includes any place in New York, southern Quebec, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts that is within 30 miles of Vermont's border.

Even though geographic boundaries can be easily defined, Vermont plan implementers continue to wrestle with the concept of exactly WHAT gets counted. Everyone agrees that if it's grown here, it's local food. But how about specialty foods: the salsa that uses Vermont farm grown tomatoes only in summer or the bakery that has only one product which uses local wheat? How about coffee and peanut butter products? When it comes to processed foods, it gets complicated. We want to support processing businesses adding value to Vermont grown foods, but we don't want to ignore the importance of local food manufacturers that may not be using local ingredients yet do create livable wage jobs here in the state.

How do these questions play out in actual purchasing decisions? What do you do when you are standing in the grocery store, trying to make a decision about a particular food, whether you live in Vermont or any other state?

Here are a few tips we suggest:
1.) Read the labels, not just the brand name - if the name uses farm, check to see if it's actually a farm or a food corporation using the word farm.
2.) When possible, buy foods in season as geographically close or "ultra local" to you as possible.
3.) When those are not available, source from other parts of the state.
4.) When something is not available in your state, look to regional producers in other bordering states.

Paying attention to where our food comes from and how it's produced is important. Food-the way it is grown, distributed, and consumed-affects our health, environment, and economy. Our food choices make a big impact. So if you can purchase food-whether grown or processed-from your community, state, or the larger region region rather than from Argentina or China, please do!

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