More and more markets seem to be jumping on the local food bandwagon, selling produce that is prominently labeled as "locally grown." But with no official certification process or legal definition, what does "local" mean when we are talking about food? How do you define it for yourself?
The Boston Globe recently wrote about the problems that have come up as locally grown food has become more popular. Big companies want in on the profit, but don't necessarily feel the need to come up with ethical guidelines for what can legitimately be labeled "local." One farmer in the article mentions a chain supermarket that sold his produce under a sign touting "Fresh, Locally Grown Produce":
"Each store would usually buy one or two boxes of most of the items that I had available that week," he says. Behind those displays there would be more peppers, a lot of them from farther away, but it wasn't clear that the banner was referring to only certain produce. "They weren't exactly lying," he says.
Even states like New Hampshire and Vermont — which do have legal guidelines for use of the word "local" — run into problems. Food grown even just a couple miles over state lines cannot legally be called local, while food grown 100 miles away but still within the state can.
The burden lies on consumers, who must figure out which claims they trust and which purveyors use guidelines they agree with. Not even farmers markets get a free pass; last fall a Los Angeles farmers market seller was caught repackaging Mexican produce and selling it at farmers markets around town.
What do you think? Do you have a personal definition for "local" as it applies to food? Are there independent markets or chains in your area whose claims you trust?