Tomato Travels, or Where’d You Get That Cow?

A few weeks ago I read this New York Times article about major brands marketing their foods as local to the area where they are either grown or processed, and it got me thinking about what shopping and eating “local” means to me. If I shop at Target, which is headquartered here in Minneapolis, is this shopping local? Or do the goods AND the services have to be here? What about buying Mexican tomatoes at the local food coop? Is this more or less “local” than buying locally grown tomatoes at Whole Foods?

Ultimately, how we each define “local” is up to each of us. For me, I look for locally grown foods and have a preference for smaller farms that use sustainable practices. I prefer grass-fed beef from a local ranch, milk from local grass-fed cows, and organic fruits and veggies from local small farms. But if I can’t find what I’m looking for, or the local organics are out of season, then I have to start making choices. In the winter I choose locally grown hothouse tomatoes over the organic imported varieties. I also shop at Whole Foods over the local coops, and this works for me because I use less gas by driving to fewer locations (yes, I know I should ride my bike, and I’m going to work on that for trips with fewer items) and our Whole Foods stocks a lot of the locally grown meats and produce.

But what about the bigger brands? General Mills is headquartered just outside of Minneapolis. Do their products count as local? For me, I have to say no, and yes. From an ecological standpoint, no, because I know that they’re shipping in raw ingredients from all over the world; the food is not entirely locally grown and quite a large amount of fossil fuels are being used to get all those ingredients to MN. But from an economic standpoint, I know when I’m buying General Mills products I’m helping my neighbors to keep their jobs, and that’s important too.

If you’re a non-vegan in MN and haven’t tried Thousand Hills Cattle beef or Cedar Summit Farms milk, you should check them out. Grass-fed is the best!  We’ve also got great farmer’s markets for locally grown fruits and vegetables – my favorite is the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market under the freeway near the North Loop in Minneapolis.  It’s open every weekend day in the summer.

If you’re outside of Minnesota and would like to find local farmers and ranchers near you, check out Sustainable Table’s Eat Well Guide.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Minneapolis Farmers Market
June 9, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Thanks for the compliment. We love Minneapolis. And we are here 7 days a week!
Follow us on twitter @mplsfarmmarket

Wander Girl
June 9, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Thanks for letting me know, I’ve updated the post. And I’ll look for you on twitter!

Kirsten Bonanza
June 19, 2009 at 8:41 pm

I just used this post in a research paper for my Masters degree. Well written! I appreciate what you have said about the fuzzy definition of local and how there can be a little good even in the giants.

Christy Weese
June 25, 2009 at 1:12 pm

There’s a commercial that aired this year in Canada about “supporting a Canadian company and Canadian workers” that…. wait for it…. sells orange juice.

Exactly where are they getting the oranges from, I wonder? I just thought it was a very odd way to try and put a “local” spin on a product. Ha!