Locavores prefer food that comes from close to home

Kathryn Rem

Deanna Glosser is a locavore and proud of it.

Locavores — people who eat locally grown foods when possible — are soldiers in a growing movement to eat foods grown close to home.

Through backyard gardens, farmers markets, roadside stands and like-minded restaurant chefs, they choose fresh foods for better nutrition and flavor and to reduce pollution caused by transporting foods long distances.

“The local foods movement is absolutely overwhelming. It’s probably going to be one of the biggest social changes in our lifetimes,” said Glosser, president of Slow Food Springfield, a 2-year-old nonprofit group in Springfield, Ill., that supports local food producers. “I don’t know how many people I know who say they don’t want to buy food unless they know where it comes from.”

That sentiment grows stronger each time there’s a national recall of peppers, spinach or meat.

But it’s not all rosy apples.

Illinois is blessed with rich soil and abundant farmland, yet the state imports more than 90 percent of its food. Farmland is largely used to grow corn and soybeans for export.

Although it’s relatively easy for a home cook to find a dozen ears of sweet corn or a quart of strawberries, it’s more difficult for restaurants, schools and cafeterias to find local suppliers for the volume of food they need.

“Leaf lettuce in June and July? You can’t get it here,” said Brown Hitt, who has worked at or managed a number of Springfield-area restaurants and bars since the 1970s.

“The whole thing about sustainability and locally grown has burst on the scene in the last two years. But restaurants don’t have a lot of time to beat around with supply. It’s all about convenience. The local guys can do it, but it’s a lot of extra work.”

Another downside is that smaller farms tend to have higher production costs, especially if foods are grown naturally or organically.

The obstacles don’t discourage those in the vanguard of the eating-locally movement. They get some support from consumer research firm Packaged Facts, which says the local foods market now is worth $5 billion nationwide and is projected to grow to $7 billion by 2011.

Not only do locavores — which, by the way, was named 2007 Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary — want to know their food suppliers, they want to support them.

“I want to help local farmers make a living. When I get apples here and not from Washington, the dollars stay in this community,” Glosser said.

According to local eating advocates, other benefits include:

Environmental. Food travels, on average, 1,500 miles from farm to plate. Buying local reduces carbon dioxide emissions and packing materials.

Taste. Local farmers grow varieties that excel in soil in their region.

Freshness. Most produce at farmers markets was harvested that morning.

Community. Knowing your grower often leads to knowing your neighbor.

One of the organizations leading the local-foods movement is the Rochester, Ill.-based Illinois Stewardship Alliance. The organization was founded in 1974 to oppose unfettered strip mining. After those goals were met, the alliance altered its focus to promote family farmers and healthy food systems.

“We have the consumers who want to buy locally. And we have the farmlands capable of producing a wide variety of foods. What we’ve lost is everything in between to get food to people,” said Bridget Holcomb, agricultural policy coordinator for the alliance.

“Fifty or 60 years ago, farms grew a plethora of different crops, fruits and vegetables and animals. They had ways of getting those to market. We need to make a concerted effort to create those channels.”

Through legislation he signed at the 2007 Illinois State Fair, Gov. Rod Blagojevich created the Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force. The 31-member panel of farmers, food processors, retailers and government staffers was directed to come up with recommendations for expanding local and organic food production in the state.

Although the legislation requires a report be submitted to the General Assembly by Sept. 1, the document probably won’t be ready until later in the year because of the large scope of the project, according to task force member Jim Slama, president of

He said the report will address several key areas.

“We need to recruit more farmers and get them the skills they need to grow a much larger amount of food. There’s way more demand than there is supply,” he said.

“We’re looking at regional production, distribution and processing centers, a place near Chicago or in southern Illinois that grows 1,000 acres of vegetables, for example. And we’re trying to ensure that people have access to fresh foods across the state. There are many areas where there is no access,” Slama said.

But the majority of headway made in the local-foods movement has come through grassroots efforts.

“The last few years have been like a watershed moment,” Slow Food’s Glosser said. “Suddenly, more and more people are becoming aware. First they become aware of, maybe, organic food. That leads to learning about the pollution from transportation. Then they discover the health benefits. One thing leads to another, and they’re looking for sources to buy local foods.”

Slow Food Springfield has a mailing list of nearly 100.

Carey Smith Moorman of Springfield started a local chapter of Food Not Lawns — dedicated to ecological community gardening — in April. Dozens of people have since become involved.

“I wanted to meet other people interested in organic gardening, in making the soil richer, in giving back. We have more of a network than a series of formal meetings,” she said.

Smith Moorman has been astounded by the number of people interested in growing and eating local foods.

“The downtown farmers market is so crowded you can’t get up to the vendor to buy the food. That shows me there’s a real need. I think we could have a farmers market in every town, every week, and there still would be enough people to support them.”

The primary reason, she said, is simple.

“Nothing tastes as good as fresh produce.”

Kathryn Rem can be reached at 788-1520.