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The Full Story of Local Food

Local food and farmers are everywhere they need to be.

My first version of this was originally published 11/2020. Updated 4/2021. This post is inspired by a piece I wrote in 2015 for National Geographic when I worked for America’s Dairy Farmers. I talked with IRI about “local” on their podcast as we entered the 2020 holiday season, too. It’s a topic that deserves more attention and one you can always ask me about. Let’s dig in.

Food conversations are personal.

There is no ONE way to eat.

There is room for choice as we care for ourselves, our communities, and our planet.

Just like different food groups pair well on our plate, they pair well on the farm, too.

There is currently no agreed upon, formal definition of “local” food. Most people think about food close to where they live and buy their food. I’d like to invite you to think about food being local to where it makes the most sense to grow and raise it. Banana farms in Illinois? No. The impact of that on natural resources would be tremendous and quite frankly, silly.

Here are three things you can do to master “local” in a way that honors your needs, your community’s needs, and the planet’s needs.

  1. Start at the beginning of the story. You know how it’s super annoying to miss the first few minutes of a movie where you learn the characters and basic point of the story? Think of it like that. When you want to talk local, include what you mean. Is it in your state? Your region? Or is it local to where that food originally came from? Regardless of what you choose to eat, you can feel happy that it supports a farmer and all the people involved in making it available to you.
  2. Remember that food is grown and raised where it makes sense to do so. Farmers consider geography and weather along with many other factors needed for a successful harvest year after year. They choose what makes the most sense for their farm – with an eye towards what you want to eat – and use natural resources wisely to ensure we have a safe, abundant food supply. This is true around the world, so supporting local farmers is even easier than we think – because farmers are local to wherever food is grown. Local grocery stores sell local foods and typically highlight them, including condiments and other options that region may be known for – and the people who work in the stores are local, too. Supporting local food means you are supporting all of this.
  3. Remember that “local” is important in many ways. Most of us have favorite recipes passed down through generations, and there is a good chance they reveal a bit about where our families are from. Wherever your family is from, there is a food story to tell. Whatever town or region you were born in – you guessed it – there is a food story there, too. Focusing on this aspect of local honors culture, heritage, and farmers around the world in a deeply relevant way. Pretty cool.

Next time you grocery shop or eat, picture the farmers growing or raising the delicious food you chose.

When you pull out that favorite family recipe, consider the story of that dish and what it means to your history.

Whatever you eat, wherever you are, food is a part of our story. How will you tell yours?

By Kim Kirchherr

I am a dietitian working in food and fiber (agriculture) through retail, addressing opportunities to make things better for people and planet.

5 replies on “The Full Story of Local Food”

Hi Kim, enjoyed the article and especially point #2 as it relates to how grocers highlight local but also help educate in the process.

Hope you are doing well!


Great insight into the meaning of local and how it is more of a personal perspective than a circle on the map. Here in Chicago I think of Chicago Hot Dogs or Deep Dish Pizza, but my home when I was a kid was on the far south side where a lot of onion farms were. And my Hungarian heritage seems so local within my family circle. I really enjoyed your insights, thanks for sharing.

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Thank you so much, Bob, for reading and sharing your comments. Those are exactly the layers of connection we need to continue to honor and celebrate. Helping everyone see their own stories and connections within this complex, wonderfully diverse story of food and farming.


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