How Close Must Food Be Grown to Be Considered “Local”?

Unlike organic food, there is no legal or universally accepted definition of local food. In part, it is a geographical concept related to the distance between food producers and consumers. In addition to geographic proximity of producer and consumer, however, local food can also be defined in terms of social and supply chain characteristics.

In terms of defining distance, opinions are quite varied. Distances that are perceived to constitute local may vary by region. Population density is important because what is considered local in a sparsely populated area may be quite different from what constitutes local in a more heavily populated region. This is referred to as “flexible localism,” with the definition of “local” changing depending on the ability to source supplies within a short distance or further away, such as within a State (Ilbery and Maye, 2006). For example, in King County, WA, a densely populated urban county, a survey of 54 producers found that 66 percent defined local market as their own or surrounding counties (Selfa and Qazi, 2005). On the other hand, in Grant County, a sparsely populated rural and agriculturally based county, only 20 percent of 61 producers surveyed considered their local market to be their own or surrounding counties.

Different definitions may also be appropriate, depending on the situation. For example, with regards to the Value-Added Agricultural Market Development program, run by USDA Rural Development, the 2008 Farm Act defines the total distance that a product can be transported and still be eligible for marketing as a “locally or regionally produced agricultural food product” as less than 400 miles from its origin, or the State in which it is produced.

Fun Fact:

LocavoreA person who exclusively or primarily eats foods produced within a predetermined radius from his or her home. (The New Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year in 2007)


Ilbery, B., and D. Maye. 2006. “Retailing Local Food in the Scottish-English

Borders: A Supply Chain Perspective,” Geoforum, Vol. 37, pp. 352-367.

Selfa, T., and J. Qazi. 2005. “Place, Taste, or Face-to-Face? Understanding

Producer-Consumer Networks in ‘Local’ Food Systems in Washington