Calling all Locavores

Local Food is now a “movement” with its own vocabulary and initiatives.

Something’s happening here. Local food is now a movement. There is so much interest in eating local food that new words are being created to describe what was, until recent human history, the only way one could eat.harmony valley farm

The New Oxford American Dictionary announced last November that the 2007 Word of the Year is (drum-roll please) “Locavore.” Locavore was coined two years ago by a group of four women in San Francisco who proposed that local residents should try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. The locavore movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locavores also embrace local food as an environmentally friendly measure, since the average American food item travels 1500 miles to market (and that’s just domestic products).

Other regional movements have emerged since then, though some groups refer to themselves as localvores rather than locavores.1 Jessica Prentice, one of the authors of the word, explains.

“I thought about both ‘localvore’ and ‘locavore’ and decided on the latter. First of all, it’s easier to say, has a better flow, and almost sounds like a ‘real’ word. But also my understanding is that the prefix ‘loc(a)’ has to do with place — as in ‘location’, ‘locomotive’ and ‘locus’... The ending ‘vore’ has to do with eating, and is the same root as the word ‘devour’. To me the word locavore means, in a sense, ‘a person who eats the place’ or even ‘one who eats with a sense of place’ or, better yet, ‘one who devours the place’ (I enjoy eating).

“New England localvores added the ‘L’ because (I believe) they didn’t like the association with ‘loca’ as in the Spanish for ‘crazy.’ I live on the West Coast, where ‘loca’ in that sense is more a positive than a negative. We’re less serious out here... :-) Also, if journalists wanted to question me on that association, it would be an opportunity to explain that what is really crazy is the amount of unnecessary importation and exportation of food that currently happens in our globalized food system.” 2

When I attended a marketing conference for food co-ops last October, I heard another new word that sounded rather strange to me. In a presentation about local food, Doug Walter of the Davis Food Co-op in California referred to the area they defined as local as a “foodshed.” I’d heard of watershed, and tool shed, but foodshed?

It turns out that foodshed is not a new word made up by marketers. The term foodshed, borrowed from the concept of a watershed, was coined as early as 1929 to describe the flow of food from the area where it is grown into the place where it is consumed. Recently, the term has been revived as a way of looking at and thinking about local, sustainable food systems.3

On the heels of foodshed is the word “farmshed.” A farmshed is the network of people, businesses, organizations, and productive lands that create a local food economy. Similar in concept to a foodshed, the farmshed idea helps us envision and strengthen our community’s relationship with the regional landscape.

westridge farmThat we have to have a movement complete with specialized language, focus groups and political funding to encourage the creation of stronger local food networks is a sobering wake up call to just how disconnected we Americans (and even Wisconsinites) have become from our food.

One of the online responses I read on the discussion page of the “locavore” announcement was: “Hmmmm…..locavore - makes sense it was coined in San Francisco - for those of us living where it is winter 9 months of the year (and poor skiing the other 3) we’d be looking at scurvy and worse if we were locavores. Another nice conceit for those in lotus land!”
Hmmm. Try telling that to my dear departed grandparents, Verna and Alfred Geiger.

Verna & Alfred raised ten children on a Dodge County Wisconsin farm during the depression. Too poor to own their own land, Alfred was a laborer on someone else’s farm, but they were provided with a house to live in (where my mother remembers waking up to frost on the covers), an area to garden and raise ducks and chickens, and a dollar a day for wages. I’m sure the Geiger’s ate 95% local food, mostly of their own making, out of sheer necessity. And all of their children survived into adulthood without getting scurvy.

While I was raised in Madison rather than on a farm, my mother Arlene passed on her local food preservation skills to all of her ten children. Lots of mouths to feed, but lots of hands for harvesting, washing, peeling, chopping, canning & freezing. She bought food at farmers markets and U-pick farms. She even bought live chickens, butchered them on the farm she purchased them from, brought them home and canned chicken and dumplings. Lest you think Arlene had plenty of time on her hands, she also worked at least 3 part time jobs.

So, I know that eating locally can be done, whether you live in a city without access to a garden or in the country. And it can even be done, thanks to the demand that has created more availability of products, without having to process your own food. As Michael Pollen says in In Defense of Food “…before the resurgence of farmers’ markets, the rise of the organic movement, and the renaissance of local agriculture now underway across the county, stepping outside the conventional food system simply was not an option for most people. Now it is. We are entering a postindustrial era of food; for the first time in a generation it is possible to leave behind the Western diet without also having to leave behind civilization.” 4

I don’t think the point of the local food movement is to convince every person to eat 100% local, but rather to increase our purchase of local foods consistent with our values and develop stronger local food networks. There are real consequences for the choices we make when eating food. There are consequences for our health, the health of our food culture, the health of our local economy, and the health of the land (locally, as in clean groundwater, and globally, as in climate change).

For example, “If every US Citizen ate just ONE MEAL A WEEK (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 MILLION BARRELS OF OIL every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.”5

Local SignageHere at the Viroqua Food Co-op, we label food that is grown or produced within a 50-mile radius of Viroqua as Local. Next time you’re shopping, watch for these green labels and you’ll be surprised just how many products you can buy even off-season that are local. You don’t have to wait until spring to consume Wisconsin meat, cheese, milk, eggs, bread, spinach, root vegetables, celeriac, ice cream, frozen pizza, beer, wine, salsa, granola and sauerkraut, to name a few.

Even making small, incremental changes in one’s food purchasing takes some thought and advance planning. Take advantage of the time between now and September to research what is available locally, consider menus and recipe options. We will continue to provide information on local food in each issue of the Pea Soup and on our website leading up to the challenge. Be sure to check out the list of local food resources, local farmers and producers on our website,

The more eaters who vote with their forks for a different kind of food, the more commonplace and accessible such food will become.” 4

Charlene Elderkin

Marketing & Membership Manager

1 Oxford University Press blog,
4 Pollen, Michael, In Defense of Food. Penguin Press, 2008, pg. 14
5 Kingsolver, Barbara, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, A year of Food Life. Harper-Collins, 2007, pg. 5