Protecting the Local Food Movement

There are number of well-capitalized national food corporations co-opting the local food movement through use of “fresh” and “local”, with slogans and images that evoke local farms, farmers and their products. These slogans are misleading, deceitful, or out-and-out false. This deceit confuses customers and hurts small local businesses and non-profit organizations that have created the local food movement and are faithful to its values. When customers are unsure of which claims of “fresh” and “local” are true and which not, they can lose their trust in the local food movement with severe economic consequences to farmers and food artisans who are true to their word when they use “fresh” and “local” to market their products.

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture and three partner organizations have launched the Real Deal project to help farmers and local food activists protect their pioneering efforts. These partners will create definitions of “local” that can be applied to all businesses claiming to sell locally produced food products. There are several stages to this effort. The partners will:

  • Conduct research on what “local” means to farmers food businesses;
  • Determine how to judge claims of “local” and communicate the definition and its measurement to customers; and
  • Develop tools and resources for farms and farmers’ markets to use in branding their products and for food artisans to apply to improve their sourcing of ingredients.

The Real Deal project will enlist the PASA community to provide ideas and comments through surveys, focus groups and interviews during the research phase. The Project will invite volunteers to test the tools developed. Contact Leah Smith (leah@pasafarming.org) to get involved.

The court decision in a recent lawsuit for false use of the word “natural” in product claims (Rojas v General Mills, 3:12-cv-05099) is a warning to large food corporations for false use of “local” and “fresh” as soon as there is widespread acceptance of these place-specific words.

As participants in the Philadelphia area local food movement we must make sure that any food products sold or offered through our programs are locally produced. If any are not local, we must insist that they clearly show where they are produced. We must not risk jeopardizing the public trust that we have earned in building one of the strongest local food movements in this country.

Bob Pierson
Farm to City
bob@farmtocity.org

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