Checking the Food Odometer: Comparing Food Miles for Local Versus Conventional Produce Sales to Iowa Institutions

Food miles are the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it is ultimately purchased or consumed by the end user. The term food miles has become part of the vernacular among food system professionals when describing the farm to consumer pathways of food. A Weighted Average Source Distance (WASD) can be used to calculate food miles by combining information on the distances from production to point of sale and the amount of food product transported. This paper calculates the WASD or food miles for various types of fresh produce delivered to Iowa institutions from local sources. The data is compared to food miles calculated from an interpolation of conventional sources within the continental United States - the likely places these products would have originated from had local food not been available. The average WASD for locally grown produce to reach institutional markets was 56 miles, while the conventional WASD for the produce to reach those same institutional points of sale was 1,494 miles, nearly 27 times further. Conventional produce items traveled from eight (pumpkins) to 92 (broccoli) times farther than the local produce to reach the points of sale. Research is underway to determine how well consumers understand and value the concept of food miles within the context of their food purchase decisions.

Downloadable Documents: 
Author: 
Rich Pirog and Andrew Benjamin
Publisher: 
Ames, IA: Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University
Page Numbers: 
8
Publication Date: 
July 1, 2003
Literature Category: 
Articles