Vermont again tops Locavore Index


Reformer staff

BRATTLEBORO — Even with new data derived from the recent Census of Agriculture conducted by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Vermont once again tops the Strolling of the Heifers' Locavore Index.

The index has been published annually since 2012 by Strolling of the Heifers, a non-profit food advocacy organization based in Brattleboro. According to the index, Vermont has the strongest producers and consumers of local food of any of the 50 states.

"When we first launched the Index, there was very little data available indicating how much local food was consumed in each state," said Orly Munzing, founder of Strolling of the Heifers. "We were looking at the numbers of farmers markets and CSAs (consumer-supported agriculture entities) on a per capita basis. It was an indirect measure, a proxy for the real metric, which would be the dollar value of local food produced and sold in each state."

Last month, the USDA published the results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture, which gathers information on the output and business practices of all of the nation's farms. The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years. The 2017 Census included two questions about local food: The value of food sold by farmers directly to consumers (at farmers markets, farmstands, CSAs and direct online sales); and the value of agricultural products sold by farmers directly to local retailers, institutions, and food hubs. This was included in the Ag Census for the first time in 2017.

"Having this information allowed us to revamp the Index completely," said Martin Langeveld, compiler of the Index. "These two metrics, combined, paint a picture of how much food is produced and sold locally in each state, through all channels. We looked at that on a per-capita basis, and ranked the states accordingly. So the methodology is much simpler, but also much more accurate."

As a result of the incorporation of the new USDA data, there have been some major shifts in the ranks for the 2019 index. For example, California, which ranked 27th in 2018, is now No. 2. Hawaii, which was 8th, is now third. And Washington jumped from No. 11 to No. 4. Other states with strong upward moves included New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Several New England states slid to lower spots: New Hampshire moved from 5 to 16; Massachusetts from 6 to 22; Rhode Island from 10 to 33; and Connecticut from 17 to 27. Another major decline was registered by Montana, which was third in 2018 but is now 28th.

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In Vermont, at the top of the list, the total local food sales per capita came to $166.22, compared to California's $129.88 and Hawaii's $107.29.

"This is a combination of retail and wholesale sales," Langeveld said, "so actual consumer spending on local food is more. But, when compared with per capita food consumption, including food away from home, of about $5,000 per capita, it could still grow quite a bit more."

The purpose of the Index is to highlight and encourage local food efforts in all 50 states. Since 2012, the Index has been cited widely by local food advocacy groups throughout the country.

"That's why we've been publishing the Locavore Index," said Munzing. "The purpose of the index is to stimulate conversations and efforts in every state aimed at increasing the amount of local food sold and consumed. That's great for the farmers and great for consumers."

"This index shows how the Vermont public increasingly supports local food," said Anson Tebbets, Vermont's Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets. "This consistent backing, and the evidence of solid data, tells an important story. It's clear Vermonters like what they are buying and are supporting local agriculture. Thanks to the public, farmers, and food companies, our rural communities are stronger. Let's build on the good news here."

Looking at the U.S. as a whole, locavorism has clearly been growing rapidly.

The value of food sold directly to consumers via farm stands, farmers markets, CSAs and online, was measured in both the 2012 and 2017 Censuses. It more than doubled during that period, from $1.31 billion to $2.81 billion — a strong indication that consumer demand for food fresh from farms is growing by leaps and bounds. The new Census metric of food sold to local retailers, institutions and food hubs was not measured in 2012 but came in at $9.04 billion in 2017.

Going forward, Strolling of the Heifers plans to update the Index only every five years, following the release of Census of Agriculture data. The next Census takes place in 2022; results, and the next Index, will be published in 2024.

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