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Reducing Food Miles

A Farmers Market, courtesy urbanmadison.orgThe vast majority of energy used in the U.S. food system (around 80 percent) goes to processing, packaging, transporting, storing, and preparing food.

Produce in the U.S. travels, on average, 1300 - 2000 miles from farm to consumer. Since 1970, truck shipping has dramatically increased, replacing more energy efficient transportation by rail and water.

Local food systems can reduce "food miles" and transportation costs, offering significant energy savings. Consumers also benefit from fresher, better-tasting, and more nutritious food, while more food dollars stay within rural communities.

NOTE: Some of the following documents are available as Adobe Acrobat PDFs. Download Acrobat Reader.

ATTRA Publications

Bringing Local Food to Local Institutions - IP242


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Food Miles: Background and Marketing - IP312


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Food Miles Links

A Tale of Two Tomatoes: Local Lucy and Traveling Tom
A publication by Ecotrust that compares the economic, environmental and health factors of a locally grown tomato, Lucy, versus a conventional tomato, Tom.
Checking the Food Odometer
A 9 page report by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture that calculates the food miles of produce from local sources vs. conventional sources delivered to institutions in Iowa. [PDF/504K]
Eating Oil: Food Supply in a Changing Climate
A 98 page report published by Sustain, which examines the social, environmental and public health problems that have resulted from our current food system's dependency on petroleum. [PDF/504K]
Eating Up the Earth: How Sustainable Food Systems Shrink our Ecological Footprint
A 14 page report produced by Redefining Progress, which utilizes the ecological footprint concept to evaluate the global food system. [PDF/829K]
Fight Global Warming with Fresh Food
A 2 page flyer published by Fresh Energy that addresses the connection between global warming and food production, processing and transportation. It also includes solutions to each of these problems. [PDF/1.2M]
Fighting Global Warming at the Farmer's Market
This 14 page report discusses food transportation in Canada and the potential of reallocating money spent on food imports to be spent on Canadian sustainable agriculture. [PDF/745K]
Food Miles
Article from the BBC Food Matters website, which explains what food miles are, why food miles matter and what individuals can do.
Food miles: Still on the Road to Ruin?
In 1994 the SAFE Alliance produced the Food Miles Report, one of the first publications on the effects of food transportation. This report, released five years later, investigates how the campaign has developed and what problems still remain. [PDF/136K]
Food Travels Far to Reach Your Table
Article written for the Environment News Service, which summarizes the dangers of long distance food travel and includes tips for promoting local food systems.
Food, Fuel, and Freeways
A 37 page report by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which assesses energy and CO2 emissions for three varying food distribution systems.
Fuel efficiency, Local Foods
This 11 page study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture looks at whether farmer delivery or customer pick-up is more efficient for direct-market farmers. [PDF/173K]
Globetrotting Food Will Travel Farther Than Ever This Thanksgiving
Article produced by the Worldwatch Institute that summarizes an Iowa study in which each food item for a meal travels an average of 45 miles if sourced locally, versus 1,550 miles if sourced non-locally.
Good Stuff? Local Food
A one page flyer prepared by the Worldwatch Institute including food miles facts, success stories and suggestions on how to take action.
Oil and Food: A Rising Security Challenge
Article written for the Earth Policy Institute, which addresses our modern food system's reliance on fossil fuels.
The Validity of Food Miles as an Indicator of Sustainable Development
A 117 page report published by the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which evaluates the social and environmental costs of food transportation.

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Success Stories

100 Mile Diet
When discovering the great distances that food travels from farm to plate, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon decided to try an experiment in which they would gather all of their food and drink from within a 100 mile radius of their home in Vancouver, B.C.
Farmer's Weekly Food Miles Campaign
Campaign includes a Food Miles Lunchbox Competition for schools around the UK . Elementary age children develop healthy, local, low food miles lunchboxes and are awarded prizes for lunchboxes with the lowest food miles.
Food Share Community Gardening Program
Food Share is a Canadian organization that helps groups and individuals to implement community gardens through resources such as their community gardening manual, month to month garden start-up toolkit and Life Cycles Sharing Backyards Program
Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) Marque
The LEAF Marque includes a LEAF Tracks number, which consumers can enter into the LEAF website to determine the farm from which their food was produced.
Montana Farm to Restaurant Campaign
The campaign is collaboration between 30 Montana restaurants and 23 Montana sustainable producers, which has strengthened local Montana agricultural communities and helped to educate consumers about locally grown food.
The Green Grocers, Norwich UK
A UK natural food market, which determined it produced over 127 tons of CO2 annually from food miles. They since have become carbon neutral by offsetting their emissions with forestry projects in Mexico and Uganda.
University of Montana Farm to College Program
Program envisioned in the spring of 2003, the Farm to College (FTC) program's purchases now exceed 13% of the annual college dining system's budget and saved nearly one million pounds of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere in 2005.
Vermont Fresh Network
The Vermont Fresh Network builds partnerships between farmers, chefs and consumers and has connected more than 80 farmers with over 150 restaurants state-wide.
Western Montana Sustainable Growers Union
The Western Montana Sustainable Growers Union is a group of 12 Missoula-area organic farms that has developed the "Homegrown" label, which informs consumers that the food item is grown within 150 miles.

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Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) is a non-profit organization working to Sustain agriculture in western Massachusetts , throughout the state and across the country.
Family Farmed
A non-profit organization committed to expanding the production, marketing and distribution of locally grown and responsibly produced food. Their "Wholesale Success" workbook is invaluable for growers involved in food hubs.
Food Routes
The Food Routes Network is a national nonprofit organization that provides communications tools, technical support, and information resources to organizations nationwide that are working to rebuild local, community-based food systems.
Local Harvest
The Local Harvest website is a searchable network of farmers' markets, family farms and CSAs around the United States . The site also contains a listing of farm events and a periodic newsletter.
Rural Roots
Rural Roots is a regional, 501(c)3 nonprofit food and farming organization dedicated to creating connections between sustainable producers, consumers, and other regional food and agricultural organizations.


Food Carbon Footprint Calculator
A tool for residents within the UK to calculate their food carbon footprint to better understand the extent to which food decisions impact global warming.
Life Cycles Food Calculator
The Life Cycles food calculator determines the distance and amount of greenhouse gases saved if a certain food product is bought locally as opposed to imported.
Low Carbon Diet Calculator
The Bon Appétit Management Company Low Carbon Diet Calculator is designed to allow you to compare the relative carbon impacts of your food choices. Drag and drop menu items, ingredients or sample meals into your virtual pan and quickly calculate how you are contributing to climate change.


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This page was last updated on: May 20, 2016