In 2008 Congress passed an amendment to the “Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act" which defined “locally” as ‘‘(I) the locality or region in which the final product is marketed, so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product" or ‘‘(II) the State in which the product is produced.”
Seriously, 400 miles?
In my last blog post, I poked fun at this definition. (Maybe I shouldn’t have, since it could alienate potential customers in New Jersey who like popcorn.) Finding a definition of “local” became a big deal after I committed to using local butter, but then realized I couldn't find what I considered real "local" butter.
After speaking to wholesalers, distributors and even farmers in an attempt to source legitimately “local” ingredients, I have come to accept another kind of definition, also provided by the government. In this case from Justice Potter Stewart of the Supreme Court, who stated in an opinion on a totally unrelated issue, "I know it when I see it.” This new definition is how I have come to view shopping locally for myself and my business.
I wasn't happy applying the term “local” based solely on the context of distance. It seems to me that the spirit of shopping locally is more of a “know it when you see it” kind of thing, and less about mileage, or zip codes.
Processors collecting milk from all over the nation and processing it into butter within 400 miles of me doesn’t sound truly “local.” Conversely, buying shares in a Jersey cow would be hyper-local (and admittedly satisfy a childhood dream of owning a cow), but it just wouldn’t be practical, or legal, in Kent. Luckily, I have found a middle ground.
I’m thrilled to be able to say I have finally found what I consider real “local” butter by any definition, from Hartzler’s Family Dairy in Wooster, Ohio. If you were reading the comments from the last blog post you might recognize Hartlzer’s from a reader’s recommendation.
Hartzler Family Dairy owns the cows, the processing plant, and employs a philosophy making a natural, minimally processed butter. It’s a great fit for my caramel popcorn recipes and they already deliver in Kent, so I’m not even guilty of increasing shipping-related CO2 emissions. Yes, it is more expensive than butter I could have purchased from far away Minnesota or Wisconsin, and even other Ohio processors. But in the spirit of the “know it when I see it” definition of shopping locally, the difference in cost is worth it.
The kind of “local” butter I was looking for required more than that just a low price tag or mileage limit. Hartzlers Dairy has a philosophy toward their products and their cows that I appreciate, and I’m willing to pay a little extra to support. Better feed, glass bottles, and foregoing pesticides and growth hormones is simply more expensive.
But there’s still another component in the shop-local equation that deserves mention – community support. Hartlzers Dairy sponsors a Kent State football game each year. (Honestly, I’m not sure how it was possible for me not to have known about this dairy when their name appears in lights on the scoreboard at Dix Stadium.)
Investing in the community is a another important component of shopping “locally.” Supporting businesses that contribute in some way to our community – either through sponsorship of football games, school donations, supporting community events, or being good stewards of the earth – presents another good reason to make the extra effort as consumers to shop locally.
The local shopping scene can get a little confusing, which is why it's good to have a definition, albeit amorphous.
Kent State recently started selling Bent Tree Coffee in the Eastway Cafe, providing an opportunity for students to shop locally on the campus of a nationally known university.Also, the Domino's Pizza on South Water street has a new owner, a local veteran who showed his committment to Kent during his grand opening week.
By adhering to the strictest definition of local, these two could have been excluded, but by my definition of knowing it when I see it, it looks local to me.
The new construction downtown has spurred a host of new businesses competing for dollars. I’m looking forward to visiting all the businesses and opening my own next week. Some of these businesses will be “local,” and some maybe not so local and others unknown. Not to worry, though, if you care about your local economy and community it will be easy – you’ll know it when you see it.