Is local food affordable?

One common argument is that local food is more expensive and therefore not viable. It’s time to refute this argument.

  1. An estimated 9% of the money spent on food in supermarkets reaches the producers of the raw materials on farms. That means 91% goes to middlemen as the food is bought and sold and trucked all over the continent. What if you take out the majority of these middlemen? That keeps the price down by reducing the number of players in the supply chain. In Schwäbisch Hall in Germany, they built their own supermarkets, where all the profits belong to local farmers. (An English language summary of the project is on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation website.)

The problem is not that local food is more expensive, but that the price of industrially produced food sold in supermarkets is artificially low. Retailers are able to bulk purchase from overseas and don’t pay the real cost of producing it in terms of environmental damage caused by transporting it, which would ultimately increase the cost by 12%. The suppression of supermarket food prices may soon be challenged for a variety of reasons, including harvests threatened by climate change, more expensive produce from Europe (which supplies around 30% of our food) as a result of Brexit, the value of the pound falling further and rising oil prices, which will increase production and transportation costs. All this favours more sustainable local supply systems.

  1. So what can we do as consumers? Purchasing as much as you can directly from local producers can be cost-effective, especially if you buy what is in season. Farm shops and local grocers will often offer deals when fruit and vegetables are in plentiful supply seasonally.

Only around half the food we eat is produced in the UK (see page 5 of linked report).  Buying locally to increase that percentage will help improve our food security, it will be better for the environment and it will strengthen the local economy. In time, as more and more of us buy from local farmers, producers and retailers and buy smaller amounts more often so we waste less, it will kick-start a new local food economy that will in turn become much more affordable for all.

Photo: Seattle City Council. Flickr, Creative Commons

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