Sunday, August 1, 2010

What is Local?

A few weeks ago I decided to track my grocery purchases for one year. I have two reasons to partake in such a tedious task.
• To learn what percentage of my purchases are Michigan produced.
• To become more aware of what I am purchasing.

I am tracking total Michigan produced and total purchases, and I separate the costs between processed and fresh foods.

It has been a struggle to define “local” for tracking purposes. The Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council ( generally defines local as within 40 miles of Grand Rapids. The USGBC’s LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance Rating System defines local as produced within a 100 radius of the site in their credit, MRc5 Sustainable Purchasing – Food.

For my one-year tracking, I decided that all local products counted have to be Michigan grown or processed. After all, I call this my MI food blog. By the time I was into the tracking by a couple of weeks, I had begun noting holes in the Michigan food system – pay attention budding food entrepreneurs. I am lactose intolerant; I don’t know of any lactose free MI bovine cheeses. (I can tolerate Dancing Goat Creamery goat cheese in small quantities. And, thankfully butter has no lactose). The cheese that I eat the most is an Amish yogurt cheese from Ohio. People with celiac disease are in the same boat. There are not a lot of gluten-free MI producers in the area – none on my grocery store shelves. But, there is a local gluten-free bakery. The other difficult products to find were processed organic. Eden Organics is located in Michigan, so I have been searching out their products more regularly.

I added a third tracking category: other sustainable. This is defined by me as fair trade, Amish, or organic.

Here’s how I further defined the food that I am tracking.
• Michigan grown fresh foods
• Processed in Michigan (and contains more than just a simple food product. So, yes to any Eden Organics can of beans, but no to Eden’s bagged dry quinoa.)
• No restaurant food – skews the values, and we eat at locally owned restaurants
• No beer or wine – skews the values, and we drink mostly MI beer and wine
• Bakery and deli products whether from a grocery store, independent bakery, or restaurant deli are included. The grocery store baked breads that come to them in frozen unbaked loaves are not counted as Michigan products.
• Locally roasted coffee
• Locally made chocolates

When I travel, I will continue to track the grocery items that I purchase. But, I will define them by whether they were local to the community where I traveled.

Details for how this is going will be posted on my blog periodically. Right now it is easy to eat local due to the fresh foods at the farmers markets. Here are the numbers for July, my first month.

Percent of Michigan fresh foods compared to all fresh food purchased: 87%
Percent of Michigan processed foods compared to all processed food purchased: 66%
Percent of total Michigan foods compared to all food purchased: 81%
Percent of sustainable (MI, Amish, organic & fair trade) foods compared to all food purchased: 88%

These numbers are pretty good. We’ll see how it evolves as the seasons change. Thanks for reading.

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