“Local” has become a popular American buzzword in recent years.  One episode of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives (which happens to be my favorite show) is likely to contain multiple mentions of local ingredients, locally-grown produce, and locally-raised meats.  Farmer’s Markets are rapidly regaining popularity and popping up across the nation.  Schools are re-introducing local produce and meats on the cafeteria menu.  But what does “local” really mean, and why do consumers today seem to value items with the “local” label more and more?

From a food perspective, the urbanization of our nation’s population, and resulting food safety and nutrition concerns, have been major driving factors.  There is an interesting overview of the Timeline of our food systems over the past century in this blog post, Food System History.  Americans have spent the last several generations moving away from their rural roots and into the big city, losing touch with where their food comes from or how it is produced.  Agriculture has become industrialized, with the food chain driven by corporations and centralized processing and distribution systems.  Even in the heart of beef country, still living in what the rest of the nation considers a highly rural area, many of us in Eastern Montana don’t realize that the beef we buy at the grocery store may have traveled thousands of miles before it hits our shopping cart.  The Hinsdale School in northeastern Montana began a local beef-to-school project after students discovered how far their cafeteria beef was traveling:

foodmiles

The new generation of U.S. consumers is becoming concerned about what they put in their bodies, what they feed their children, and – perhaps most importantly to many of them – the values and politics of the companies they are supporting with their food dollars.  They are willing to pay a little more for food that not only tastes better and has greater nutritional value, but was also grown or raised under conditions that they believe to be environmentally-friendly, sustainable, or humane.

Various sources have ranked Montana relatively high in lists of the best states for local foods, as represented by this Great Falls Tribune article.  We have good access to local food in Montana thanks to producers, farmer’s markets, and cooperatively-owned food hubs.  Why is this good?

“…buying local food ‘keeps local farms healthy and creates local jobs,’ that locally produced foods require less fuel to transport to local markets, that local food tends to be fresher, healthier and taste better because is spends less time in transit, and that locally produced foods promote ‘agritourism’ for people attracted to farmers markets and to the chance to visit a working farm or ranch.”

Without local farms, we lose local tax dollars for critical infrastructure and schools, and we lose kids who would go to those schools.  We lose people who would shop at and support our own businesses.  We all want food that tastes better and is better for us.  We want our local food producers, and our local grocery stores, to be there for us when we need to eat, so we support them.  A real no-brainer, right?

What if we switch gears from food and talk about the value of local in terms of other things we all need, like communications services that allow us to connect with the rest of the world from our remote rural corner of Montana.  Is there a value to us as consumers in supporting local services and providers?  We want to hear your thoughts on the subject.  Here are some related questions to ponder (and answer for us in the comments if you want) as you think about it:

  • If you own a local business, what is the value of the goods & services that CenturyLink or Verizon have purchased from you in the last year?
  • How many students in your School District or families living in your town are supported by a CenturyLink or Verizon wage?
  • In the event of a national disaster, where do you think Eastern Montana will be on CenturyLink or Verizon’s priority restoration list?
  • What is the total value of CenturyLink or Verizon’s investment in communications facilities in Eastern Montana over the last decade?
  • How many scholarships have either of these companies awarded to Eastern Montana students this year?
  • Have either of these companies sponsored or contributed to your local events or activities in recent years?
  • When you pay a bill to either of these companies, where do you mail it to?
  • Where does the CEO of either of these companies live?  Where are their company headquarters?
  • Why are both of these companies in business?  What is their ultimate purpose?

Now think about all of the above questions as they relate to Mid-Rivers Communications, your local telecommunications cooperative.

What will communications services, and our communities, look like in Eastern Montana in 10 years if we don’t support LOCAL?  Think about it, we want to hear your thoughts and have a conversation.

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