Minding our business: Is "buy local" really that hard to define? | submitted by Tim Metcalfe

On April 1, the Associated Press ran a story that appeared in The Wall Street Journal titled "Locally grown? It all depends."

In it, the author shared that this is a real challenge for consumers because the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that there is no generally accepted definition of local food. With few regulations, retailers have different standards.

Whole Foods says a food cannot be labeled as local unless it traveled to the store in seven or fewer hours by car or truck. Wal-Mart labels produce as local if it is from the same state where it is sold. SuperValu defines local as within regions that encompass four or five states.

Many retailers, according to the article, leave it up to the managers.

Metcalfe Markets defines a product as local by designation in our Food Miles program. Signage tells you how many miles the food has traveled. Eligible products are either from the state of Wisconsin or within a 150-mile radius of the state capital.

As we consider our local economy, what can we do as consumers to make an impact? We all need to eat, and yet only 7% of non-local food dollars stay in the community. Ninety-three percent of them are leaving the state to distributors, shippers, and other middlemen. If everyone reading this blog post did just one local meal a week, it would make a real economic impact in Wisconsin.

In fact, according to the Department of Agriculture & Applied Economic Development at UW-Madison, for every $100,000 in Wisconsin local food sales, 2.2 jobs are created (2009).

We have seen a great deal of change for three generations at Metcalfe’s Markets. I rather like that it has come full circle and that people are again relying on those closest to home to fill their needs. There is a real cost, and as business leaders we can all play a role in shaping a future for our local economy that is positive and sustainable.

Tim Metcalfe is the president of Metcalfe Markets, Inc.

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