Looking for a good read? Get on the internet and download an ebook by your favorite author in just seconds. Need fresh-caught fish for an extra special meal? Make a call tonight and it will be delivered in the morning straight from a dock in Hawaii to your front door in Phoenix. The world and its bounty are at our fingertips, supplied by the current state of transportation, technology and infrastructure. Scale, however, greatly affects the availability of certain types of transportation like those that transport food products in the Valley of the Sun.
American agriculture has gone through a great metamorphosis during the 20th Century, moving from small- sized farms to larger scale enterprises. Transportation and delivery logistics have paralleled that pattern. Agriculture products that used to come from your backyard or the farm just down the road became harder to obtain from local sources during the mid 1900s. The supply of locally grown products dwindled, as did the subsequent need for convenient small- scale transportation; both began to fade away.
Local food is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as any product that comes from no more than 500 miles away. On average, those products are 10 days old when they finally reach the marketplace. That doesn’t sound very local or fresh. But times are changing again. Urban agriculture and locally grown products are increasingly in demand for health reasons as well as the high quality of such food items. Consumers understand more and are buying into eating seasonally and using regionally specific food stuffs. The linchpin is in how these products get from hyper-local farms (producers and consumers that live in the same city or county) to the end consumer – transportation.
The current system of distribution is designed to handle large volumes of products versus the relatively miniscule amounts coming from small producers. This dynamic typically forces small-scale entities to get their products to distributors themselves, sell at farmer’s markets, or form cooperatives. Self distribution and individual sale methods increases farmers’ costs plus takes large blocks of time away from farming duties.
Large distributors and wholesalers fully realize the potential for hyper-local food yet have not fully engaged in providing those commodities. Due to their business size and operational structure, their reaction time and costs are proportionally greater, and therefore not often used. Truly urban farms are popping up within city limits and are able to sell products directly from the farm, but their numbers are small compared to demand. Agricultural aggregators and food hub systems are coming into existence that are more nimble to fulfill producer and consumer needs with less operational overhead, but they are the exception and not the norm. Otherwise, the burden and costs of transportation rest mostly upon the shoulders of small producers from across the country. There is work to be done to relieve this burden.
So support your local farmer by buying straight from the source: farm stands or farmer’s markets are a good place to start. Find a cooperative or food hub operator that can offer you direct access to local, really local, farm-grown food. The more we eat what is in season and buy hyper-local food, the sooner we will find these products more readily available. Fall crops are just around the corner, so be ready to seek, find and buy local. Times are constantly changing.
Paris Masek is the Managing Director for Green on Purpose, Director of Agriculture Programs for Quincea Social Enterprises, and a PhD candidate at ASU in English Literature working with Indigenous American Literature and Cultures. He is an active member of the Maricopa County Food System Coalition as well as an urban gardener who uses raised beds, edible landscaping, and a flock of chickens in his downtown residence to keep fresh produce and eggs on his family’s dinner table.
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