Week 7: It Takes a Garden to Feed an Island

Seven weeks into my research here on Lopez Island I’ve received close to 200 surveys, and I’ve started to notice a trend. The most common reaction I see when people first pick up the survey is a groan, followed by “oh, I have no idea!” Whether they’re taking the survey outside the grocery store, at the farmer’s market, or online, the initial puzzled look is an almost guaranteed reaction. There are two areas of the questionnaire in which I ask people to report numbers – numbers that the average person may not know off-hand. It takes some thinking. The first question that respondents get hung up on is one that asks the survey taker to estimate how much money they spend on groceries at a variety of sources – the local supermarket, farmstands & off-island stores – on a weekly basis. The survey just asks for an estimate – $50 here, $25 there – but for people who don’t keep track of their food bills (albeit most people), this question can pose a real challenge. After a minute to think, most people come up with a number and move on to the next question. Those that can’t often say “I have to go home and check my bank statement,” which can lead to rather precise “estimates.” Response #99, for example, estimated they spend (generally) $223.06 on food each week.

How much of your food dollars do you spend at Blossom or Lopez Village Market? At a farmstand or off-island (insert your local grocery store)?

How much of your food dollars do you spend at Blossom or Lopez Village Market? At a farmstand or off-island (insert your local grocery store)?

The second question that many people get hung up on asks them to estimate, on average, how many pounds of food they harvest from their garden each week during the growing season. Some people put an estimate, others simply put a question mark or write “I have no idea!” Others seem justify their inability to answer by writing something like “I grow all my own vegetables” or “I have two tomato plants in pots on my front porch.” The answers I do get in pounds are rough estimates at best. So you may ask: “is there any validity behind your methods?”

The average American, according to the USDA, consumes just under 2,000 pounds of food each year. We each eat a ton of food per year (and some of us eat much more)! This fascinating statistic provides a helpful way to measure local food, and with at least a little accuracy. By comparing the amount of food we harvest from our gardens against that one-ton statistic, we can determine (roughly) how much of our diets are home-grown. That is, if gardeners can guess with any accuracy.

Chart from onegreenplanet.org

As a gardener myself, I decided to test this question. When our household took the Food Survey back in June we were faced with the same uncertainty that many people experience: generally, how many pounds of food do we harvest from the garden each week? I tried at the time to visualize the harvest from our 1/8-acre garden in the heat of summer: a basket of zucchini, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, and beans, but how much does it all weigh? At the time we estimated that, spread across the growing season, we average 15 pounds of food per week. For all we knew it could have been a world away from reality.

Since that day I have weighed everything that we’ve picked from the garden in an attempt to test the accuracy of my guess. Two ounces of lettuce, 8oz of cherry tomatoes, 3lbs of beets… and the result? Over the past 7 weeks our garden has averaged 23 pounds of food per week. That’s a good bit higher than we predicted. But the past seven weeks of June through August were ripe with bounty, much more so than in the early days of May. Last week, for example, I harvested 15lbs of tomatoes alone. In a perfect world I would have started the experiment in March, but since I’m not weighing weekly throughout the entire season I won’t truly know how accurate my guess was. What I can tell is that I wasn’t far off. My gut feeling is that for most gardeners on Lopez, their guess is as good as mine, even if at first glance they “have no idea.”

Weighing the daily tomato harvest sure is satisfying, but they are basically just flavorful water balloons.

Weighing the tomato harvest: a sure way to rack up the pounds, but they’re really just flavorful water balloons!

Beyond data, posing somewhat challenging questions gets people thinking about their food. A consumer who can’t recall how much they’ve spend on groceries may not be thinking about the impact of their food dollars. A gardener who doesn’t know how much they harvest each week may overestimate the fraction of their food they grow at home. The accuracy of these responses will play into the success of my research, but simply asking Lopezians these questions has already started the conversation about local food.

Want more frequent updates? Check out what’s happening with the project at facebook.com/lopezfoodshed and don’t forget to “like” the page!

Week 6: It Takes That Kind of Dedication

I arrived at the vineyard soaked from head to toe, mud splattered on my shorts, my hair dripping with sweat and rainwater. The roads I had biked over were glistening, puddles formed in depressions in the tar. It was finally raining on Lopez. Though hardly enough rain to green up the fields or to justify not watering your garden, it was the first steady rain we’ve had since I arrived in June. It settled the dust and reminded me of the New England summer I left behind. It also led me to question why I decided to bike to meet Brent and Maggie of Lopez Island Vineyards despite the downpour. Perhaps it was an attempt to uphold my values and avoid using the extra fossil fuel, or perhaps it was for the utter thrill of bicycling in the rain – either way, the best I could do as I stood in their wine tasting room, dripping, was to say, “well, you can see just how dedicated I am!”

Bike commuting on Lopez is fun in the summertime – but don’t let anyone tell you there aren’t hills!

My meeting with Brent and Maggie was one of many conversations I’ve had with farmers and food entrepreneurs on Lopez this summer. Although biking through the pouring rain is a relatively rare occurrence, tracking down these busy business owners in the height of summer has often required a similar kind of dedication. Last week I met with my supervisor, Rhea, to form a strategy for connecting with the remaining farmers on my list. With 25+ years under her belt working with farmers on Lopez, Rhea knew where to find them, but my instructions from her felt more like detective work than academic research.

“Go to the farm, but not on weekends” was one of the more simple directions.

“Call this number. His wife will answer, and she’ll get on the walkie-talkie and call him in from the fields. Read him the questions – he won’t fill out the survey on his own.”

“On Friday, go to the wine tasting at Vita’s. Look for the woman serving the wine. If you get there between 4:00 and 4:15, you should be able to talk to her.”

“Go to the sand and gravel pit between 7 and 8am. If you don’t find them there, I don’t know where you’ll find them.”

Biking down long and dusty gravel roads to track down farmers – just another day at the office!

Following up on these strategies, round-about as they might be, has for the most part been extremely successful. This week has seen a threefold increase in the number of farmer surveys I’ve received, up from four last week to twelve as I write this post. I’ve also been able to connect with the remaining restaurants on the island about the project. Checking these businesses off my list comes with both a sense of accomplishment and a reminder that my summer on Lopez is almost over. That said, I still have three more weeks to bring in the rest of the surveys.

And as for the consumer survey? Yesterday when I walked into the Land Trust office to pick up supplies for tabling outside the supermarket, LCLT’s director Sandy said to me, “We’re changing your goal from 280 to 500. Momentum is building.” In my head I thought about how much more work that makes for me in the fall, analyzing an extra 220 surveys, but it also added an exciting new challenge to the project and a reason to keep up my ambition as the weeks flow on. And I knew she was right. At 5 weeks in I have already reached my quota, and the surveys keep coming in! Will I really reach 500 people, nearly 20% of the island’s population? Who knows. But it’s good to keep ploughing ahead to get as close to that new goal as possible. What do you think? Can it be done?

We’ve actually already surpassed this goal, but the chart hasn’t been updated in a while!

Check out the new facebook page I’ve created for the project! Make sure to “like” the page so you receive updates and pictures of what I’m up to!

"Like" the project on facebook to receive updates and pictures of what I'm up to!

“Like” the project on facebook to receive updates and pictures of what I’m up to!


Week 5: Take a Survey, Feed the Island

An excellent portrayal of the project by Tim Fry of 468 Communications! Thanks for the excellent story and the kind words!

Project 468

At a potluck dinner on Lopez Island late in the summer of 2014, Sandy Bishop, executive director of the Lopez Community Land Trust, and one of LCLT’s farm interns, Ezra Fradkin, were having a conversation about a hot topic – eating locally-sourced food. Sandy told Ezra she guessed that Lopezians probably only get about 5-10% of their food locally. Neither one of them had any way of knowing whether that guess was anywhere close to reality. Ezra, a farm intern on Lopez for only the summer, wanted to know. So, he decided to come back for the summer of 2015 to find out.

Ezra is entering into his last undergraduate year at Sterling College in Craftsbury, Vermont. With a mission squarely focused on environmental stewardship, Sterling, with 120 students, is the smallest four-year college in the United States. In addition to requiring every student to work an on-campus job…

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Week 4: Success Stories

The dinner table, to a gardner, is always changing. This week the summer sun is ripening tomatoes and peppers; zucchini has become a fixture at the evening meal. The days are long and pleasant and the evenings cool, the sunsets exquisite. It’s smack-dab midsummer, which means we’re coming up on the half-way point of the project. To that end I’ve been busier than ever. The past week has brought tremendous publicity to the project along with inspiring conversations and connections. More important to me than data collection is the interactions I get to have with people as I share the work that I’m doing. I have four success stories to share from my outreach efforts this week: collectively, these successes have buried my desk in paperwork to the point where I can no longer see the wood surface beneath, but that’s a good thing for the project!

Success story #1Poster display in Lopez Fresh food bank

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Distributing surveys anonymously via Lopez Fresh

Lopez Fresh is a fresh food bank started by the Lopez Community Land Trust that has its home beneath the island’s Family Resource Center in the village. The food bank hides behind a wooden gate, offering its users a sense of anonymity. Anyone can drop off perishable foods in food bank’s refrigerators – garden surplus, day-old bakery items, leftovers from a catered event, expiring goods from the grocery store – and anyone can pick up food. I talked with Alaya, an Americorps volunteer with the Family Resource Center, about distributing my surveys through Lopez Fresh. Although she wasn’t sure exactly how many people use Lopez Fresh, we both agreed it was worth a shot.

Success story #2: Tabling at Lopez Village Market

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All set up outside Lopez Village Market, right next to the trash can by the exit door.

On Wednesday, I spent four hours sitting outside Lopez Village Market, a franchise of Red Apple Markets and the island’s largest grocery store. From my booth by the exit door I solicited shoppers to take the survey. In addition to being a productive way to distribute surveys, I also learned a lot about the island – at least those islanders who shop between 10 and 2 on Wednesdays. Most people were in a hurry (“No thanks I don’t take surveys”), I did recieve many good responses, like the response of a woman who picked up a clip board without a moment’s pause saying “It’s about my island? Well yeah I’ll take it!”

Success story #3: Interviewing on Lopez Community Radio, 102.9 FM KLOI

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Carol Steckler on the sound board at KLOI, Lopez Community Radio

Long-time Lopezian Carol Steckler had me on her radio show Kitchen Table Politics. The interview was recorded live and will be re-broadcast throughout the week on KLOI, Lopez Community Radio. Stay tuned for when and where you can listen online anywhere in the world! I also recorded a Public Service Announcement that will be broadcast periodically on the station, directing people to the project website.

Success story #4: Presentation to the Lutheran congregation at Center Church 

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Center Church, the oldest church on Lopez and home to some of the best pastoral views on the island. Photo credit: cascadiaramblings.wordpress.com

By the invitation of Henning Sehmsdorf of the S & S Center for Sustainable Agriculture, I presented on Sunday to the congregation at Center Church following their morning worship. In small groups we discussed the question “What does a sustainable food system on Lopez Island look like to you?” Among other ideas we mused the practical applications of self-reliance for an island like Lopez: having a robust local food supply makes the island more resilient if the ferry system were to fail, for example.

Still work to be done

This week approaches the half-way point of my stay here on Lopez. Although the surveys are rolling in, I still have a lot of work to do in order to reach every farmer, restaurant, grocery store, value-added food producer, bakery, and 10% of the island’s year-round population! To date I have recieved 68 survey responses representing 130 individuals, which is just shy of half the target of 280 people (~10% of the year-round population of Lopez). I’ve recieved completed surveys from 4 farmers and 4 restaurants, which leaves plenty of work to be done for the second half of the summer to bring the surveys in!

 

Thanks for following my project! If you haven’t done so already, check out the project website!

Week 3: Take it or Leave it

My project supervisor here on Lopez, Rhea Miller, recently presented at a TEDx conference on neighbouring Orcas Island. In her talk, Rhea mentions the following quote by Meg Wheatley:

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”

Rhea uses the example of the Lopez Island dump to explain this idea in context: when the island was faced with a difficult decision regarding the disposal of solid waste, many parties came together to create what is now a nationally renowned recycling program with a goal of zero waste. In fact, the Lopez dump was recently named Washington State Non-Profit Recycler of the Year (though I can’t help but wonder if there was really much competition).                                                                     

Recently, I was trained as a dump volunteer. Volunteering means helping people sort their recyclables or  working at the recieving end of the Take-it-or-Leave-it, the dump’s accompanying free store. During shfits the past two Sundays, I’ve had time to reflect on Rhea’s message in more detail.
In order to change in the food system, it takes the spirit and collective wisdom of a community. With my project, I am quickly learning that I have more success when the community is invested in the outcome. That’s why a primary goal of this project is to learn what people on Lopez value about local food. The question I am asking is “Can Lopez Island feed itself?” but that’s just from a research standpoint. A more worthwhile question for the community might be: “Should Lopez Island feed itself?” or “What would it take to become more self-reliant?” 

The theme of food independence was well-timed this week with the celebration of the United States’ 239th birthday. When it comes to community values, there’s no day like the 4th on Lopez Island. The parade through town is a showcase of local businesses and community groups, with prizes handed out by the Lion’s club to creative and well-made floats (this year there was also a category for “Best Judges Bribe”). I took this opportunity to showcase my own project at a time when the entire island had gathered in one place. Later in the day I wore my hand-made badge (see below) at the community cook-out, along with a backpack stashed full of surveys. 

At the day’s end, in true Lopez spirit, I took off my data collection hat just long enough to watch the fireworks over Fisherman Bay, get a good night’s sleep, and get ready for another shift at the dump on Sunday morning!

Data Check: At the time of this posting, I have collected 36 completed surveys representing 71 individuals. That’s just over 25% of my goal of reaching 10% of the island, or 280 people. At just over two weeks in, that’s exactly where I want to be! I’ve got lots of events coming up this week, so stay tuned!

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Week 2: Food is Energy

“So you’re the foodshed guy.”

“What’s this project all about?”

“I saw your poster up at the coffee shop [replace with: library, grocery store, bakery, etc.]”

Momentum is building. I had thought it would take longer to establish a presence on the island before I started making headway on the project, but I suppose I overestimated the size of the Lopez community. And while word of mouth may still be the best way of spreading the message among Lopezians (“did you hear about________!?”) I think my success thus far can be attributed to harnesing the power of redundnacy. When someone sees my poster in the village, they might not even read it all the way through, let along visit the website or take the survey. But then I run into them at a potluck and then again on a grocery run and I tell them about the project and they say, “so you’re the foodshed guy?” then they might go home and go online and take the survey.

I have had one or two luke-warm encounters with business owners when soliciting them to take the survey, but for the most part I am met with gratitude and curiosity. When I walked into Vita’s, a wine-shop and deli downtown, to collect a survey I had dropped off that morning, I was handed a root beer float and told, “sit down!” When I met Linda Lyshall, the director of the San Juan County Conservation District, she asked me, “when can you this county-wide?” 

 

Tabling at the Islands Energy Fair on Saturday.

  
 One of the many times I’ve talked about the project this week was over breakfast with Claver Bundac, the CEO of a California-based company called Biomedix, in the home of my supervisor Rhea Miller. Biomedix manufactures food safety testing equipment, and the company recently donated a state-of-the-art food laboratory to the Lopez Community Land Trust.  Claver is in the process of training farmers on the island on lab protocols to test their own products for salmonella, e-coli, and other contaminants. The equipment in the food lab is typically used at businesses like Starbucks who have a protocol for regular testing, but here on Lopez it will serve a different purpose. The Food Lab, as they’re calling it, will be the first community-owned and farmer-run lab of its type in the country. The lab empowers farmers to test their own products instead of being subject to an often expensive 3rd-party process. This could help open the door to new products being produced on the island, making use of the agricultural surplus. 

  
The newest addition to the Lopez Food System highlights the need to gather the kind of data we are colleccting with the Foodshed Assessment. Knowing the current state of things is the first step towards envisioning what’s possible. With a food lab on Lopez the doors are open for production of value-added products, collaborative ventures between producers, and many other opportunities to close the loop on this small island. So now the pressure is on. Let’s work to make this project a success! What do you think? What is the next step? How can we make use of more local food here on the island?

On a side note, the project website got an overhaul this week to make it more user-friendly and nicer looking. If you haven’t done so already, take a look at it! If you’re reading this on Lopez, make sure to click the link to take the food survey! www.lopezfoodshed.weebly.com
   

Week 1: Place and Progress 

I arrived on Lopez Island on Wednesday, June 17th, at 5:50pm tired and smelling like the airport. What I had planned as a simple and straightforward trip from one coast to another turned by mixed fortune into a 36-hour day of rushed waiting. Despite a 3:15am wakeup, I still managed to miss my flight, which pushed back my arrival by a day. I spent long hours staring out the airport window, reading the newspaper from back to front (ads too!) and finally sleeping on a stranger’s floor in a suburb of Seattle. Although the journey was unexpectedly long, perhaps it helped to ground me in my travels, because when I finally stepped off of the ferry a day and a half after I left New England, I felt a resounding sense of home. It has been nine months since I last set foot here, and although an immeasurable volume of things have happened in that span, Lopez appears unchanged. Driving down the familiar road from the ferry landing to the Hummel House, walking through the familiar gate, smelling the familiar kitchen, I could recall clear memories of the same experiences – if you told me I never left I would have believed you.  

I even have the same pattented Hummel House napkin ring!

And so here I am, placed once again on Lopez Island: a visitor, with a purpose – to collect data for my senior project – yet with my feet on the ground in a place that changed me. I have eight weeks ahead of me on Lopez this summer, and although I will spend much of it cherishing the community and the landscape and making the Hummel House garden grow, I also have a lot of data to collect. So this week, I’ve started reaching out to the community to promote my project. The first move was a poster campaign across the island. I am lucky to have many enthusiastic allies that will help make this project a success: at the word “poster,” my housemate Carol sprung into action and emailed the community center for a list of bulletin boards on the island. When I stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to ask about putting a poster in their window, I was greeted with pleasant excitement: “You’re with the land trust? Sure you can put up a poster! Here, send me your information and I’ll put a feature in our next newsletter!”

I designed this poster with three different background images. The tear-off tabs at the bottom have the address of the project website.

  

This poster went up in the ferry terminal.

I also put a posting on “Lopez Rocks,” the island’s online forum for all things Lopez. So far I have recieved 10 survey responses – definite progress, but only a fraction of what I’ll need by the end of the summer. Luckily, I have many weeks ahead of me to promote and distribute the survey. 

I’ve also begun handing out surveys to farmers and food producers I’ve met at the market and along my poster-hanging route. It feels good to be finally on the ground after months of planning and preparation. More stories and updates are just around the corner. In the meantime, visit the project website, LopezFoodshed.weebly.com to get more details about the Foodshed Assessment – and if you’re reading this on Lopez Island, please take my survey and help make this project a success!

  

Producers, Consumers, Distributors

This week, the Lopez Foodshed Project officially launched. I sent out a letter to the community I’ll be working in and put the finishing touches on the project website, and I’m finally moving this project from a collection of ideas into a reality.  Just in time for the one-year anniversary of this blog, my itinerary is set to travel to Lopez next week and begin the work of collecting data. Once I arrive my task is to collect survey responses from three different groups within the food chain: producers, consumers, and distributors. 

By design of this project aims to gather as much information as it can about Lopez’s food system. With only eight weeks to collect the data, this is an ambitious undertaking. I’ve narrowed the focus to primarily examine the economics of the food system, but I still need to collect three distinct sets of data in order to complete the assessment. Here’s a general breakdown of the data collection:

1. Producer Survey: 

For this project, I’m focusing on the 32 producers listed in the Farm Products Guide for Lopez Island.

 
There are 32 farms listed in the Lopez Island Farm Products Guide for 2015. The USDA defines a farm as any business that produces $1,000 or more of agricultural goods in a year. Since I won’t know how many of Lopez’s farms fit that definition until I do the research I’m surveying only the farms listed in the island’s Farm Products Guide. As an added bonus, the guide provides contact information for each farm, which will save me time once I get to Lopez . Ideally I’ll include all 32 farms in the survey, but we’ll see how responsive they are to the project. I’m doing my work in the height of the growing season which means that farmers will be very, very busy. If I’m successful this survey will tell, among other things, the total dollar value of food produced on Lopez Island – a key piece of data for the project.

2. Distributor Survey: 

  
A “food distributor” is any nonfarm business that sells or distributes food. This includes restaurants, grocery stores, cafeterias, coffee shops, bakeries, caterers, and value-added food producers. Unlike with farms, I don’t have an easy list of food distributors at my fingertips. Early in the project I’ll start putting together my own list and tracking down the people who run the businesses. Here the challenge was coming up with a single survey that would suit all of these different entities. Like the farms, restaurants are doing peak business this time of year, and it may be a challenge to get the information I need. Therefore I’ve kept the survey short – just 12 questions – to avoid taking too much of their time. I’m asking food distributors to estimate the business they do in an average week, and to pick out how much they spend on food from local sources, as well as their impressions of how important locally grown food is to their customers. 

3. Consumer Survey:  

There are around 2800 year-round residents of Lopez Island. Since I am the sole researcher and working on a limited budget, surveying everyone on the island is not an option, not to mention all the time it would take to analyze those results! Instead I’m going to work with a sample of the population to represent the island as a whole. This is where the project gets tricky. I don’t have the means or the methods to target a specific sample – randomly chosen addresses, for example (and who’s to say that’s representative?) – and my time is limited, so I’m going to be working with a volunteer population: anyone willing to take the survey. The problem? Most likely, the people who have the time and interest to take a local food survey are not a representative sample; they are more than likely the population with the most interest in local foods. So although I’m relying on volunteers, I’m planning to target a variety of groups that will bring me closer to the average islander. This means some days I’ll be standing outside the grocery store, at the dump, at the ferry landing, and at other places that are frequented by everyone on the island, not just the local food crowd. To improve my response rate I’ve kept the survey short: just 10 questions. I’m also collecting basic demographics so that I can monitor my sample as I go along.

My desk is already messy, and I haven’t even started collecting responses!

This is an ambitious project, and I certainly have my work cut out for me. It’s hard to know exactly how people will respond to the project, or what kind of responses I’ll get. However with enough persistence, and plenty of outreach, here’s hoping the project will be a success!

Keep checking this space for (weekly!) updates about the Foodshed Assessment and other topics related to Civic and Community Agriculture. “Follow” the blog to get an email version of each new post. Share it on your facebook page if you think your friends would like it too!

P.S. If you are new to this blog, check out some of the older posts to learn more about my work and about the Lopez Island community. 

Measuring Local Food: Do Dollars Make Sense?

How do you measure local food?

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Local food can mean a lot of different things, and it comes in all shapes and sizes!

This is one of the questions I’ve been answering this spring, while designing the methodology for a foodshed assessment of Lopez Island, Washington.

Most commonly, local food is measured in dollars. This is certainly an easy way to do it. As a society we are accustomed to using money as an indicator. We rank success by financial success, and keep track of our spending, often with the goal of spending as little as possible. One often cited statistic says that Americans spend the lowest amount of any Western nation on food. We spend less than ten percent of our total income on food, compared with upwards of 20% in most European countries. Like many statistics, this figure offers little insight about the true state of the food system.

Who benefits from our food dollars?

For anyone already participating in the dollar economy, measuring local food in dollars makes a lot of sense. This is the method used by the Real Food Challenge, an organization focused on shifting $1 billion toward a more sustainable food system by 2020. This goal will be met by colleges and universities increasing their purchasing of local, organic, and fair trade products. At Sterling College, we’re rated #1 in the country for real food, according to the Real Food Challenge’s food calculator. To use the food calculator an institution enters data from a year’s worth of invoices, and describes whether the food was organic, fair-trade, ecologically grown, or local (the Real Food calculator ranks local as within 250 miles if the food is grown on a “small farm” and within 150 miles if grown on a “large farm.”) Accorduing to the Real Food Challenge, Sterling has a total of 76% “real food,” 54% of which is considered local.

What the real food calculator is really saying is that 54% of the Sterling kitchen’s dollars are spent on local food. It doesn’t tell us whether the money was spent on a high-value product, like salad greens, or a product like potatoes that supplies us with our primary nutrition. For many purposes, this is still a useful indicator. Dollars spent on local food stay within the regional economy and help create jobs, preserve open space, and support local agriculture, among other benefits. But aside from the economic impact of our food, measuring local food in dollars doesn’t tell us a whole lot.

What if we measured local food in pounds?

Do you know how many pounds of food you bought last week? I certainly don’t!

The average American eats just shy of 2,000 lbs of food each year. Food in the United States travels an average of 1300 miles from production to consumption. A quick calculation will tell us that 330 million people in the United States eating 2,000 lbs of food consume 660,000,000,000 lbs, or six-hundred sixty billion pounds of food per year. The majority of that food is traveling from farms to aggregators to processors to packagers to distributors and finally to the consumer on trucks, trains, and ships powered by fossil fuels. From a sustainability perspective, this is an abhorrent practice. The localization of our food supplies offers a possible alternative.

This is where our food comes from.

Measuring food in dollars tells us little about how much of our food is local. For one thing, local food is often more expensive (read: costs more money) than commercially available foods (local food often has a higher price tag, but if we factor in the externalities of the supply chain, local food may in fact be the less expensive option). If we are paying $2.00/lb more for local meat, for instance, and we calculate local food in dollars, than our local meat is weighted more heavily than meat from the grocery store when in fact on a pound-for-pound basis the foods are the same. This presents a significant challenge to measuring local food.

Now, if I asked you to recall the amount you spent on food last week, you would probably be able to recall at least a relative estimate. But how many of you would know how many pounds of food you bought? How about how many calories of food you bought? I certainly couldn’t. When we buy food, the majority of us shop based on two things: taste and price. To the average consumer, measuring local food in anything other than dollars really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

This is one of the things I’ll be considering during my senior research this summer. For now, I’m going to collect data in dollars. What that will tell me is not how much of people’s diets on Lopez comes from local food, but the impact of local food on the island’s economy. This is how foodshed research is done. If we are to truly understand our food systems on more than just an economic level, we may need to be creative and come up with new ways to measure local food. I welcome your ideas!

***Follow this blog to keep up on my senior project, conducting a foodshed assessment of Lopez Island, Washington!***

A Foodshed Assessment of Lopez Island, Washington

Spring, it seems, is always a busy time. As the days lengthen to match the night at the vernal equinox, it appears that our to-do lists have lengthened as well. No longer can the darkness of the winter nights lull us into laziness; spring is here and there is work to be done. For me, this means honing in on my summer plans and making headway on my capstone research project.

Spring buds are out, despite a cold, snowy start to spring!

Buds are out, despite a cold, snowy start to spring!

Conducting a Foodshed Assessment of Lopez Island, Washington: 

This year I will be returning to beautiful Lopez Island, Washington, the home of my internship last summer and the inspiration behind this blog. While my summer on Lopez taught me many things, it seems to have left me with more questions than answers, as these experiences often do. During the three months that I lived and worked on Lopez, I got a taste of the unique lifestyle perpetuated by this island community and the pride and dedication that people on Lopez have for their food system. There are over thirty farms on the tiny island of Lopez that raise vegetables, meats, grains, fruit, and seafood, much of which is sold directly on Lopez and the surrounding islands. Home gardens are abundant, and so is a culture of food ethics, locavorism, and seasonal eating. When it comes to the foodshed, Lopez Island is a role model of civic agriculture and regenerative economy. I am excited to rejoin the Lopez Island community this summer to participate in their local living adventure.

The term “foodshed” refers to the geographic area from which food is derived to feed a population. In the modern global food system, foodsheds frequently wrap around all corners of the Earth.

Arthur Getz, in his article “Urban Foodsheds” (1991) noted that a map of a foodshed in the globalized world would resemble an octopus with tentacles stretching all the way around the globe!

Even on Lopez, daily shipments from off the island supply much of the food that people there consume. And just as food is shipped in from off-island, so too is food grown on Lopez sold to outside markets as far away as Seattle. In order to reduce the distance food travels from producer to consumer, foodsheds must be appropriately resized based on their population. One challenge to the relocalization of foodsheds is the fact that even in the technological 21st-century, we have relatively little information about where our food is coming from. In order to truly incorporate local agriculture as a staple food source, we need to be able to map our foodsheds and understand the foodshed’s implication on our diets.

In other words, before a community can achieve self-reliance, they need to conduct a self-assessment to figure out a baseline “where we are at” measurement. During the summer months, as part of my senior research at Sterling, I will be working with the Lopez Community Land Trust  to conduct a foodshed assessment of Lopez Island in order to establish this baseline. The foodshed assessment involves gathering information about the flow of food from producer to consumer on Lopez Island. By surveying producers, distributors, and consumers on the island, I will generate data about food production and consumption on Lopez. Through community visioning and outreach, I will seek to understand the needs and goals of the islanders regarding their food system. Finally, by analyzing this data and pairing these results with the goals of the community, I will create a “map” of the foodshed that can be used by the island as they plan the future of their food system.

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“Buying local farm products is a healthy way to nourish yourself, your family, and your community.” – Lopez Island Farm Products Guide.

It may seem premature to be writing about the summer on only the second official day of spring, especially when there is still snow on the ground. But as the season unfolds, as the winter melts and tree buds burst into leaf, time counts down until the summer. I’ve been thinking about this project for many months already, and now the planning process has begun. As excited as I am to return to Lopez, I hope the summer doesn’t come too fast – there’s still a lot of work to be done this spring in anticipation!

Keep watching this blog as the seasons change: I’ll be using it to track my progress on the Foodshed Assessment – so stay tuned!