Nationwide, small farms, farmers markets and specialty food makers are popping up and thriving as more people seek locally produced foods. More than half of consumers now say it’s more important to buy local than organic, according to market research firm Mintel, and Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan called the local food movement “the biggest retail food trend in my adult lifetime.” But with no official definition for what makes a food local, the government can’t track sales. And consumers don’t always know what they are buying. A supermarket tomato labeled “local” may have come from 10, 100 or more miles away. Strict locavores stick to food raised within a certain radius of their home — 50, 100 or 250 miles. Others may allow themselves dried spices, coffee or chocolate.
Two of the more common standards used by locavores are food produced within 100 miles or within the same state that it’s consumed. A new locavore index ranked Vermont as the top state in its commitment to raising and eating locally grown food based on the number of farmers markets and community supported agriculture farms, where customers pay a lump sum up front and receive weekly deliveries of produce and other foods.
Vermont has 99 farmers markets and 164 CSAs, with a population of fewer than 622,000, according to the 2012 Strolling of the Heifers Locavore Index, which relies on U.S. Department of Agriculture and census figures. Iowa, Montana, Maine and Hawaii rounded out the top five.