More than ten years after the word “locavore” was added to the New Oxford American Dictionary and featured as the word of the year, the jury is still out on what “local” and “local food” actually is. While “locavore” describes someone who attempts to eat food produced within a 100-mile radius, “local food” can embody a variety of associations. In 2009, a study sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute asked people why they buy local. The top three reasons listed were freshness (82%), supporting the local economy (75%), and knowing where the product came from (58%). Knowing your food dollars are being spent well is a definite benefit, and one that drives many concerned consumers to buy locally, sustainably, or organically produced products. However, consumers who ascribe certain values to “local foods” without realizing what values they are trying to promote may lose track of their original goals.
Commons has officially committed to spending a quarter of their purchasing budget on food sourced from within the state of Maine. To clarify Commons’s goals, I sat down with Cheryl Lacey, the Director of Dining here at Bates. She explained that, amongst other reasons, supporting the local economy and local area farmers was of great importance. Many of the farms in Maine use many of the same, if not the exact same practices as organic farms but cannot afford the official organic certification.
Establishing relationships with these farms is mutually beneficial as students get to enjoy fresher food and farms receive a steady source of revenue from a large
This steady source of revenue has the potential to outweigh the organic price premium producers forgo without the official certification. Another reason why Commons puts an emphasis on local goods is that food that is coming from Maine is going to be fresher than food that has traveled thousands of miles, likely with the aid of preservatives. Reducing food miles can directly impact the nutritional value of the food while also reducing the carbon footprint (depending on how the produce was transported). The produce grown in The PLOT, the garden that Bates students and faculty oversee, has been a wonderful supplement to the local food in Commons. In total, around 2,500 pounds of tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, summer squash, and zucchini have been harvested and incorporated into the rotation.
Although sourcing local food is a source of great pride for Commons, there are a variety of limitations that inhibit providing purely local. One of the main limitations is the region we live in; Maine’s climate does not support year-round growing. Bates students enjoy their bananas, orange juice, kiwis; all products that just can’t be sourced locally. Secondly, Bates attracts diverse students, who have even more diverse tastes. This diversity ensures that striking a balance between cost, nutritional value, and variety is never easy. Yet, it is a challenge that plays a large role in encouraging active consideration of where we put our food dollars.