Food for Thought: Locally Grown vs. Locally Made
With Local Foods Week occurring earlier this month, we have been thinking a lot about "local" and what that term means recently. Everywhere you turn, more and more businesses are touting their use of "local" products, the definition of which is highly debatable.
The ambiguity of this term-and the importance of businesses being accountable for transparency regarding their definitions-struck us on a recent trip to a local chain grocery store* that has been airing radio advertisements for its "local" produce and connection to local farmers. Always keen on finding places that buy and sell local foodstuffs, we visited this grocery store to find out more details. What we found was disappointing. On one visit, nothing in the "local display" was local or marked with an origin other than some zucchini that was labeled "Grown in the USA." To be fair, on a visit to their other location, some of the items were labeled and were what we would consider local: the zucchini and yellow squash came from Chambersburg, PA. Otherwise, their local produce display was poorly and inconsistently labeled regarding the origin of the produce. This unclear and inconsistent labeling after touting their local connections in their advertising upset us a bit, and so we started thinking about why....
The term "local" carries a lot of connotations, whether it necessarily encompasses all of those connotations in any given situation or not. Some people buy "local" because they believe it's fresher and more nutritious, more environmentally sustainable, more ethical, or healthier for the community-and these are important and valid motivations that tie into many individuals' core value systems. While local can often be all of these things, it doesn't have to be and sometimes isn't. The loaded nature of this term coupled with its lack of standard definition is exactly why businesses need to be held accountable for their working definitions of the term. The less clear a definition is, the more room there is for purposeful vagueness and rhetorical manipulation. Unfortunately, some of the less honest businesses out there use the term "local" without much thought, simply to drum up business because they know the term sells.
Ultimately, there is not one "correct" answer; what is important is that the conversations about these terms and what they might mean in different contexts continue in an open and honest way. That, we think, is what it means to be a responsible and accountable business. We also think that, as consumers, it is our responsibility to ask these questions of businesses-we should not simply assume that "local" always carries all the meanings we think it does or should.
With all of this floating around in our head, we at Harrison's began to examine our own practices surrounding this term "local." Are we being as clear as we can be with our customers? Are we being the responsible business that we expect others to be? We certainly try to be: we indicate on our menu when an item contains local ingredients (with our wheat symbol). We name the local producer in the description of the menu item. We try to educate our staff adequately about what has local products in it and what does not.
Of course we quickly realized that we're not doing as well as we could. So we are thinking of ways to improve our communication. For instance, we will be making distinctions on our future menus between "locally grown" and "locally made." Here's what we mean with these two terms:
Locally Grown: Produce that has been grown or a product that has been made from start to finish using ingredients that originate within approximately 100 miles of our State College location.
Example: Byler Goat Dairy's chevre that we serve is "locally grown" because it is cheese made from the milk of goats that reside on a farm in Belleville, a town about 30 miles from State College.
Locally Made: A product that was made (but not necessarily with ingredients from the local area) by an individual or business within 100 miles of State College.
Example: Fasta Pasta's ravioli, by contrast, is "locally made" because it is a business that makes its pasta locally (in State College and now Pleasant Gap) but that does not use flour made from locally grown wheat (yet!).
It is important to note, we do not see "locally made" as any less valuable than "locally grown." While there are certainly distinctions to be made, these terms have one very important common denominator that applies to Harrison's overall mission: whether an item is "locally grown" or "locally made," buying it helps build our local economy and support the individuals in our community. For us, one of the most important reasons to "go local" is the people behind these local products and the positive repercussions it can have for our local community.
We hope clarifying these terms for our customers helps continue the many important conversations surrounding the term "local." We are committed to good communication because we know it is necessary to growing any healthy community.
* Note - the above grocery was not Wegmans - a store which does a good job with local product information.