These days, it’s hard to find a foodie who doesn’t also claim to be a locavore, or someone who eats locally-produced food. But it’s a lot easier to eat local foods in certain locations compared to others, which is why you’ll find more self-proclaimed locavores in Brooklyn than in Phoenix.
Strolling of the Heifers, a Vermont-based local food advocacy group, recently released its second annual Locavore Index--a ranking of U.S. states based on their commitment to local food. Texas ranks dead last, but surprisingly, the New York locavores (ranked at #25) don’t do particularly well either. Neither does California (ranked at #42), which pioneered the local-centric California cuisine. What’s going on?
The Index relies on Census Bureau population estimates; LocalHarvest’s CSA database; and the USDA’s farmer’s market database, as well as the agency’s food hub database of organizations that sell local food to large organizations.
Mash all the data together and you get a top 10 locavore state index that looks like this:
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
Upon first reading this list, I thought there had to be a miscalculation. I live in San Francisco, where you can’t go for a jog without tripping over a farmer’s market or two. Local food is everywhere—as it should be in an agriculture-heavy state. And yet, California is ranked near the bottom of the list.
Look a little closer and you’ll see why California is ranked so poorly on the index. Almost 1 million state residents live in food deserts, where supermarkets are nowhere to be found. Farmer’s markets? Forget about it.
There are pockets of California—as well as New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Utah, and all the other mid to low-ranking states—that have easy access to local food. But the top states have widespread access. It’s probably not a coincidence that Vermont, the top-ranked state, has a population (626,011) smaller than almost any major U.S. city. Many of the other top states also have tiny populations.
There’s also a big caveat to the list. Locavore Index coordinator Martin Langeveld admits in a press release: "Right now, reliable state-by-state data about local food consumption is pretty scarce. The data from LocalHarvest replaced an older data set used last year, and the food hubs data was used this year for the first time. Next year … we plan to incorporate more detailed information from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, which is now being processed by the USDA."
Next year, this list may look a whole lot different—even if very little changes on the ground.