In the past few weeks Minnesotans have started to tip-toe into the best locavore season. Whether you use 50, 150 or statewide as your local food line, June through September are by far the easiest months to eat local in the North Star State. Minnesota’s growing local food network was recently measured against other states’, and our locavores measure up well.
When the 2012 Locavore Index was released last week, Minnesotans had something to celebrate. A brand new measure introduced by New England-based Strolling of the Heifers, the rankings use farmers’ markets and CSA’s per-capita data from 2010 and 2011 to generate composite “locavore” scores for each state. Minnesota has a whopping 528 farmers’ markets and CSAs statewide, ranking #17 in the country. Vermont blew away the rest of the nation, with over 40 markets and CSAs per 100,000 residents. It may be a small state, but they have come a long way in establishing a supportive local food community.
Not a perfect measure
While the 2012 Locavore Index is one of the first rankings of its kind, it is far from a comprehensive measure of local eating. Farmers’ markets and CSA statistics are easy to find and measure across time. Not so easy are the other ways locavores fill their refrigerators–growing and preserving their own food in a backyard garden; calling up a grower and buying direct; purchasing local produce at a neighborhood co-op or health food store; using directories like Minnesota Grown or Local Harvest.org. Estimating total dollars spent on local food is no easy task.
Likewise, the Locavore Index only measures the access to farmers’ markets and CSA’s. It doesn’t measure usage or the percentage of people who regularly buy local food in their area. To date, we don’t have a solid measure for the number of local meals that make it on the table each week.
Is it problematic that the Locavore Index falls short in these areas? Maybe. Maybe not. The index is capable of showing overall growth in farmers’ markets and CSA’s over time–preliminary indicators of the rate and strength of growth of locavore habits over time. It also shows what many locavores already know: there are gaping holes in access in certain areas of the United States. States like Florida, Arizona, and New Jersey struggle to provide residents with easy access to local food. Florida may seem like a produce-rich region, but with roughly 1 farmers’ market/CSA per 100,000 residents, availability is significantly lower than in other areas. It may also be that local food networks in these regions don’t utilize farmers’ markets or CSAs in the same way as other regions. Their distribution tools lie beyond the scope of the Locavore Index.
What it means for Minnesota
Although #17 is arguably in the middle of the locavore pack, Minnesota is well on it’s way to becoming a local food leader. Minnesota is home to more than 5 million people, a tremendous number of mouths to feed compared to Vermont’s 600,000. What works in urban population centers like the Twin Cities, likely wont translate to rural areas in the far outer regions of the state. Vermont is a tiny state in comparison to the distance food must travel around Minnesota.
Finding better ways to measure locavore habits is one way to better capture local food around the state, but innovation and commitments among stakeholders in the marketplace will also be key. We need better mechanisms to connect local producers with Minnesota buyers–beyond farmers’ markets and the CSA model. It’s working for now, but is not enough to push Minnesota into the top 3 locavore states in the nation. Better conversations. Better tools. Better commitments to eating local. We’re on our way Minnesota, now let’s show the rest of the country how locavore is really done.