FMC Members Weigh in on How to Interpret and Communicate “Local Food”

By: Stacy Miller       Posted On: July 3, 2014

by Stacy Miller, FMC Program Advisor

In March, Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) announced a pilot partnership with the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) and the Food Routes Network to Explore Definitions of “Local Food.”

The project is currently in a three-pronged research phase, including a literature review, survey, and producer-only farmers market policy scan.

The literature review, currently being researched by Megan Phillips Goldenberg and Ken Meter of Crossroads Resource Center, will examine consumers’ understandings and motivations for buying local foods, the risks posed by nebulous claims and assumptions about how “local food” is interpreted, and what informs consumer decision-making in a food retail environment. In addition to understanding the range of metrics one might use to measure the “localness” of a food system, the report will help gauge demand for various consumer communication tools.

Following a listening session/focus group held at PASA’s annualFarming for the Future Conferencein February, a survey was developed and launched in May, soliciting input from FMC members, Buy Fresh, Buy Local chapter partners in Western Pennsylvania, and PASA’s Western Region Business Members. The survey was designed to help the project team:

  • Assess currently used definitions of “local food” by farmers market organizers, restaurateurs, and managers of retail stores, co-ops, and subscription-style operations currently offering locally grown food;
  • Identify the most important values associated with the concept of “local food;”
  • Explore the feasibility for a self-assessment tool that measures and helps communicate your engagement with the local food system so that consumers can compare retailers and make more informed decisions.

When the survey closed on May 23rd, 258 people had completed the survey, more than three-quarters of whom are FMC members.

Because farmers markets are, for some consumers, the quintessential “local food retailer,” FMC is simultaneously reviewing the market policies of several flagship farmers markets to better understand the organizational product integrity regulations created and enforced by farmers markets. Stacy Miller, FMC’s Program Advisor to the project, says that the scan will “include an overview of 10 regionally representative farmers markets with producer-only policies, describing each market’s vendor requirements and compliance with product origin and product transparency policies.”

Based on analysis of this research, the project will begin developing tools for scoring engagement and support for local food systems for use by farmers markets, retailers, and restaurants in order to conduct self-assessments of their engagement and support for local food systems, and communicate/describe their efforts in simple messages to their consumers. FMC members who missed the survey window but would like to participate in the piloting of tools later in the year can email Leah Smith at