Local Food Three States Away…Really?

The buzz about the goodness of locally produced foods is everywhere. Buy local — eat local — support local. The idea of local sourced food makes perfect sense. However, there is a frustration in how local is used to manipulate consumers.

A mission of our beef company is to help consumers find local food. Just because the label says all natural or grass fed or local be aware. Things aren’t always what they seem. Local products is delivered from hundreds of miles. Some unscrupulous producers brag about raising grass fed beef when they send cows to the feed trough for 90 days of corn.

The term greenwashing comes to mind. On the surface, consumers are led to believe the great things of local products. What consumers do not always know is how those foods are processed — that are eventually sold as locally sourced.

Without giving the big sales elevator speech about MM Beef Company, we want what everyone else does — healthy food that is affordable and full of flavor.

Before jumping on the local bandwagon, we cannot knock the model of corporate food in America. The ability to grow cheap, abundant food is what consumers sought and big factory faming filled the need. It was a system that worked. It still does remarkably well. As foods produced in foreign countries made it to our food carts, people began to wonder if there was a better way. Guess what? There is a much better way.

Welcome to local food revolution (a slight exaggeration). Consumers have become more savvy about what they eat. They want a much stronger connection between the food and how it is raised. There is a stronger belief in food quality and safety among consumers. That’s a really good thing.

The Food Marketing Institute reports the three most important things to consumers are the product’s freshness, support of the local economy and where the foods are raised. Those things are important to consumers and producers.

Just what is local? In a mobile world where food can be moved thousands of miles, the term gets murky and more than a little untrue. Many farmer’s markets like to promote local as within a area of 100 miles. In the local foods movement, it seems that those miles seem to get spread even farther. I would like to think an animal that spends a life on the ranch and is processed, marketed and sold counts as local.

The bigger challenge is connecting those local growers with the eaters. It’s not an easy task, but slowly the trend of consumers getting local foods on their dinner table is happening. Many of the producers –right here in Yellowstone County– are passionate and committed to growing great food.

One of the greatest myths is defining what local really is all about.

On a recent family outing to a restaurant, my wife Lisa ordered a ribeye. We asked the waiter where the restaurant gets its beef He couldn’t answer quickly enough, proudly responding that that the beef was as local as it gets. I asked from which local ranch? He answered that the meat comes from a three-state region. So much for local.

What does local food really mean? These are the most common reason why eating local is a good thing:

  • Safer for the food supply because the food can be traced to the place it was raised.
  • Flavor of great product. The food is not processed and shipped thousands of miles. The worries of pesticides and preservatives are reduced with local foods.
  • Health benefits of food that is higher in nutrients and good for our health. Some of the foods are picked before they are ripe because of distances. Vitamins and nutrients are lost along the way.
  • A community where we know the people that grow our food.

We decided to offer our beef for sale off the ranch to fill the need for locally sourced food. I suppose my definitions of locally grown food are a bit different. Uncle Basil would buy a handful of cattle off the ranches in southwestern Montana, feed and process them on his place south of Whitehall. I was a product of  farm to fork and pasture to plate long before they became popular programs. Our goal is to share this local concept with our customers.

The fascination in local is growing. It is estimated by 2050, 65% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. How in the world are we going to feed the 9.6 billion hungry people? I don’t have the answer, but support of local is a step in the right direction.

These are exciting times where younger, educated farmers/ranchers produce great foods. As consumers, continue to ask question and know where you foods are sourced.  Local really should mean local.


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