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"Locally Produced" Definition Varies

Local foods: Red hot, but undefined

By Jenny Hopkinson

4/11/15 9:11 AM EDT

The Agriculture Department really wants American consumers to buy local foods.

Whatever that means.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made promoting locally grown and produced foods one of his top priorities since taking the helm of the department in 2009, dubbing it a pillar of rebuilding the rural economy. He’s mobilized staff, spent millions and rolled out new programs, all in the name of pushing local.

It’s worked: The number of farmers markets have more than doubled in the past decade. School districts are rushing to set up farm-to-school programs. Consumers are clamoring for locally produced products, ranking that in some surveys as a more important quality for their food than it being organic or grass fed.

But there really isn’t a standard for what local is, the department admitted to Congress in a January report on the growth of local food markets and small farming operations..

That does little for consumers, who are spending billions for farm products under a moniker that could mean almost anything, or nothing. Their spending has helped grow markets for U.S. farms, particularly smaller operations and those run by minorities and younger people.

 

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