Earth Day Goal Update #5 – Eating Local for the Economy and Measuring It

Did you know that in Nova Scotia, farmers get 80 cents per food dollar spent when selling directly to customers, like at the farmers’ market, compared to 9 cents when selling to retailers? (The Coast, July 15 2010)

Similar figures are probably true for farmers in many other areas of North America because the food supply chain is so convoluted.

What that statistic above meant is that we spend most of our food dollar on the “processing” of food. “Processing” means anything anyone does that they charge on which you end up paying. That could be transportation, whether the original ingredients to the packaged finished product. Costs by the stores to display. Costs to prepare the food, whether into the packaging or at a restaurant. Costs of the packaging. Costs of the marketing and advertising, among others. When you look at all those costs, is it surprising the farmers get only 9 cents to the food dollar spent when selling to retailers? That is, their “farm gate receipts” is only 9% of all the money a society spends on food, which includes drinks, eating out and tips because people don’t separate those out from money spent on food.

Whatever this represents, though, it does not represent any direct correlation to eating local.

By that measure, you can eat all the local food you can find. However, if you get your food at home from retailers and you eat out as society currently does, the farmers are still only going to see 9 cents per your food dollar spent. If the farmers in your region are getting more than 9 cents per food dollar spent, then the difference is due to the impact of the farmers’ market and other direct sales channels for the farmers, and exports. They get more than 9 cents per food dollar from direct sales and exports and so it ups the amount per your food dollar spent.

By this measure, US farmers get 18 cents per food dollar spent by Americans. See year to year change via this link. However, in the US example, food grown in California and consumed in Maine counts as “local” at that national level because all farmers in the US count as “local” to the country. So be careful with interpreting that for comparison if your area is not as big, like if you’re a province.

The NS figure is 13 cents per food dollar, but that’s well above the standard 9 quoted for NS farmers, and the borders are much smaller than that for the US study so it’s only expected the NS value would be lower than US value of 18 cents. Regardless, there’s no need to imply, like with a percentage since there are 100 cents to the dollar, that 100% or 100 cents to the farmers, is realistic. The only way you’ll get 100 cent to the farmer is if everybody buys all their food directly from the farmers and cook it all themselves. Good luck!

Some base other than 100 should be chosen because nothing near 100 is even possible. In the good old days of 1952, the US value on this measure was still just 40%. That’s when more people cooked at home, ate far less fast food and packaged food, and bought far more directly from the farmer… with eating “local” still defined by the method as anything within the US (ie. California to Maine is “local”).

On this measure, from my own goals set for Earth Day 2010 efforts to eat better, I expect to end up directing about 40 cents of my food dollar to Nova Scotian farmers this Earth Day year (Apr 22 2010 to Apr 21 2011). I expect to spend about 2/3 of my food dollar on groceries, and 1/3 eat out. Of the 2/3, I’m hoping to spend 2/3 of that from the farmers’ market that goes directly to the farmers. So 2/3 of 2/3 is 4/9, or 44.4%. I round that down to 40% because I know some farmers at the market import produce from other parts of Canada or the New England states. That’s fine with me. Two farmers are getting more for their food and efforts than they would have from the retail stores. But I ask where the food I buy from the farmers come from and very little I buy is not grown in Nova Scotia.

Seems like my eating habits are close to that of the 1950s. 🙂

Oh, don’t buy into eating local for the environment, either. Eat local for the economy, and maybe your health. That food miles stuff is a myth.

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