Strolling of the Heifers
by Martin Langeveld
Which states are most committed to locally-sourced food? According to the 2015 Locavore Index, the top four locavore states (in order) are Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and Oregon.
These four states also topped the 2014 Index, which is compiled annually by Strolling of the Heifers, a Vermont-based local food advocacy group.
“The purpose of the Index is to stimulate efforts across the country to use more local food in homes, restaurants, schools and institutions,”said Orly Munzing, founder and executive director of Strolling of the Heifers.
This year’s Index incorporates newly available information from the Census of Agriculture, which included data on the dollar volume of direct-to-the-public food sales by farmers, including sales at farmers markets, community-supported agriculture operations (CSAs), farmstands and online sales. The Census, done every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was conducted in late 2012 but data was not made available until mid-2014.
The Index also took into account the number of farmers markets, the number of CSAs, the number of food hubs — all compared on a per-capita basis — and the percentage of each state’s school districts with active Farm-to-School programs.
Beyond the top four states, Massachusetts moved into fifth place (from 11th in 2014). Rounding out the top 10 were Wisconsin, Montana, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
“Today, less than 2% of our national population makes a living farming — the gap between consumers and the origins of the food they eat has never been more vast,” said Chuck Ross, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets. “Here in Vermont, farmers, consumers, and local food advocates are working, every day, to strengthen the connection between the food we eat and the people who produce it. It’s important work. It creates economic opportunity, preserves our Working Landscape, and provides healthy food for our communities.”
“What the Index really reflects is the fact that the various policies at the national and state levels that encourage local food programs are having measurable results,” Munzing said. “At the Federal level, there’s the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program which helps promote farmers markets and provides grants for farm-to-school and farm-to-institution programs. Many states also have active programs to encourage local food consumption, and Vermont’s Farm-to-Plate network is a national leader in this respect. All these programs are good for farmers, good for consumers, and they help to build stronger communities.”
Commenting on the changes to the Index this year, Strolling of the Heifers Marketing Director Martin Langeveld said, “The new direct sales data included in the Index from the Census of Agriculture shows that in states where farms are more diversified — including all the New England states — and where you see fewer large, monocultural commodity-producing farms, the per-capita direct-to-consumer sales levels are higher.”
Langeveld added: “Direct sales by farmers to consumers count for 50 percent in the weighting of the Index because it’s a more accurate measurement of the actual volume of local food sales than any of the other metrics we use. We hope that the USDA and state departments of agriculture will continue to expand the measurement of local food sales by farmers, such as sales to food stores and institutions, in order to continue to increase the benefits of local food consumption.”
Strolling of the Heifers lists 10 reasons to increase the use of local foods, stressing that local foods are more sustainable, healthier, better for the environment and economically positive than foods sourced from large-scale, globalized food systems.
Strolling of the Heifers’ 10 reasons to consume local foods:
- Supports local farms: Buying local food keeps local farms healthy and creates local jobs at farms and in local food processing and distribution systems.
- Boosts local economy: Food dollars spent at local farms and food producers stay in the local economy, creating more jobs at other local businesses.
- Less travel: Local food travels much less distance to market than typical fresh or processed grocery store foods, therefore using less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gases.
- Less waste: Because of the shorter distribution chains for local foods, less food is wasted in distribution, warehousing and merchandising.
- More freshness: Local food is fresher, healthier and tastes better, because it spends less time in transit from farm to plate, and therefore loses fewer nutrients and incurs less spoilage.
- New and better flavors: When you commit to buy more local food, you’ll discover interesting new foods, tasty new ways to prepare food, and a new appreciation of the pleasure of each season’s foods.
- Good for the soil: Local food encourages diversification of local agriculture, which reduces the reliance on monoculture — single crops grown over a wide area to the detriment of soils.
- Attracts tourists: Local foods promote agritourism — farmers markets and opportunities to visit farms and local food producers help draw tourists to a region.
- Preserves open space: Buying local food helps local farms survive and thrive, keeping land from being redeveloped into suburban sprawl.
- Builds more connected communities: Local foods create more vibrant communities by connecting people with the farmers and food producers who bring them healthy local foods. As customers of CSAs and farmers markets have discovered, they are great places to meet and connect with friends as well as farmers!
The Components of the Index are:
- Direct-to-the-public food sales revenue at farms, including sales via farmstands, farmers markets, CSAs and online sales.
- Farmers markets, which are generally cooperative efforts to market locally produced food in a central location where consumers can select and purchase food from multiple farm enterprises.
- CSAs (consumer-supported agriculture), which are cooperative agreements between farmers and consumers; consumers buy shares in a farm’s output, and have some say in what is grown. When crops come in, they are divided among shareholders according to the volume of their shares, and the rest may be sold at market. CSA farmers get revenue in advance to cover costs of tilling, soil preparation and seed. Shareholders get fresh produce grown locally and contribute to sustainable farming practices.
- Farm-to-School programs, in which schools buy and feature locally produced, farm-fresh foods. Participating schools usually also add nutrition, culinary and food science components to their curriculum, and may experiential learning opportunities such as farm visits, school gardens and composting.
- Food hubs, which are facilities that handle the aggregation, distribution and marketing of foods from a group of farms and food producers in a region. Food hubs are often cooperatively owned, though many are private enterprises.
Sources for the data used in the Index includes the three U.S. Department of Agriculture databases: farmers markets (updated monthly), food hubs, and the Farm-to-School Census; the USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture; the U.S. Census bureau (July 2012 estimates of population); and the California-based local food resource directory LocalHarvest, a frequently-updated database of CSAs.
About Strolling of the Heifers:
Strolling of the Heifers is a Vermont non-profit with the mission of connecting people with healthy local food, encouraging and facilitating innovation and entrepreneurship in the farm/food sector, and supporting the development of stronger local food systems and healthy, sharing, connected and resilient communities. It has been celebrating local farmers and local food since 2002, most visibly through its agriculturally-themed Strolling of the Heifers Parade, which takes place on June 6 in Brattleboro, Vt. as part of a full weekend of events. The parade features scores of well-groomed heifer calves led by future farmers, and is followed by an all-day festival, the Slow Living Expo, with food, entertainment and educational exhibits. “Stroll Weekend” is preceded by the Slow Living Summit, a conference focused on connected, resilient communities and sustainable living, which brings together concerned citizens from many organizations and sectors to explore and network around “slower” — more sustainable — approaches to many aspects of living ranging from food and agriculture to health and wellness. The Slow Living Summit takes place in downtown Brattleboro, June 3-5, and this year is fully focused on farms, food and food systems. Strolling of the Heifers is also conducting a regional business planning competition to encourage the formation and growth of small farm- and food-based businesses, and is developing a farm and food business accelerator program.
For further information about the Index, please contact Martin Langeveld, marketing director, Strolling of the Heifers — [email protected]
Here is the 2015 Strolling of the Heifers Locavore Index ranking of the states (with the 2014 rank in parentheses):
- Vermont (1)
- Maine (2)
- New Hampshire (3)
- Oregon (4)
- Massachusetts (11)
- Wisconsin (8)
- Montana (9)
- Hawaii (5)
- Rhode Island (6)
- Connecticut (20)
- Minnesota (13)
- Washington (25)
- Iowa (10)
- West Virginia (14)
- Michigan (26)
- Idaho (12)
- Pennsylvania (34)
- District of Columbia (17)
- Virginia (24)
- New York (23)
- Maryland (15)
- Wyoming (19)
- South Carolina (29)
- South Dakota (27)
- Delaware (18)
- Colorado (21)
- Nebraska (30)
- North Carolina (22)
- Kentucky (28)
- Utah (43)
- North Dakota (7)
- New Mexico (33)
- Alaska (16)
- Ohio (37)
- Indiana (36)
- California (38)
- Missouri (31)
- Kansas (32)
- New Jersey (39)
- Tennessee (35)
- Illinois (44)
- Arkansas (47)
- Alabama (42)
- Georgia (40)
- Oklahoma (46)
- Mississippi (45)
- Louisiana (48)
- Florida (41)
- Nevada (50)
- Arizona (49)
- Texas (51)