Arizona Near Last in Local Food Consumption -- Good!

Our local fishwrap laments:

The local food movement in Arizona needs just that – movement.

While some shoppers enjoy spending their Saturday mornings at local farmers markets, new research indicates Arizona lacks per-capita sales in the local food industry.

The 2015 Locavore Index found that of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., Arizona has the second lowest per-capita sales for local foods.

Here is a scoop for you:  We live in the middle of the freaking Sonoran desert.   It is a terrible place to grow most foods.  In fact, it is an environmentally awful place to grow food.   Local food folks somehow have gotten locked into transportation costs as the key driver of food sustainability that they want to focus on, but transportation costs are 10% or less of most food costs.  A small savings on transportation is absolutely dwarfed, from a productivity and resource use standpoint, by the productivity of the soil and the fit of the climate with whatever is being grown.

Here is one way to think of it -- yes, locally grown food may not have to be transported very far, but every drop of water for food grown here in the Phoenix area has to be brought hundreds of miles from declining reservoirs to grow that food.

The movement seems to imply that locally grown food is more healthy.  Why?  Why is an Arizona tomato healthier than a California tomato?

Finally, the micro-trade-protectionism is pretty funny:

If local Arizonans start buying more local food, the economy may benefit as well.

When buying local grown food, “the money stays here in the local economy, as opposed to buying something in a national chain,” said R.J. Johnson, a sales representative for Blue Sky Organic Farms in Litchfield Park. “You buy something locally, 75 percent of that money stays here in town.”

This is so economically ignorant as to be beyond belief.  If more people are growing food here locally (something that is likely a fairly unproductive task given our climate), what productive tasks are they giving up.  And this is a national effort -- are they really with a straight face telling every single state that they should buy more locally so their money stays at home?  Isn't that just one big zero sum game (actually a negative sum game because you lose benefits of specialization and comparative advantage).


  1. Thane_Eichenauer:

    "local fishwrap". That gets a chuckle.

  2. Incunabulum:

    " . . . are they really with a straight face telling every single state that they should buy more locally so their money stays at home?"

    Yep. Its the same sort of thinking that says its good to 'buy American' but buying something made outside the country harms us - even if its less expensive and of better quality.

    What the people fail to understand is that when I buy something, I'm giving someone *paper* in exchange for a good or service. At some point, for that paper to be worth more than kindling, its going to be used to buy *more* goods and services.

  3. STW:

    As I recall, water evaporates in the Phoenix area at a rate of about 10 feet a year. If my math works that means for every three inches of water per week on plants another three inches evaporates. Yep, sustainable farming.

    The whole growing season thing seems a stretch for many eat local types. Our season is about four months long. We actually had a light freeze in August. Eating local here means you'd get mighty tired of stored root vegetables by March.

  4. Not Sure:

    How local is local? If you're in Phoenix, is it okay to buy tomatoes from somebody in Tempe or Mesa? Or would that be hurting Phoenix by exporting dollars to another city? And then, there are those pesky transportation costs involved with buying from a different city, maybe. Unless you live right near the city border, and the person in the other city is just on the other side. You know- as opposed to buying from someone in your city who's on the whole other side of the city. So many things to worry about...

  5. J_W_W:

    Is it just me, or is every big idea progressives latch on to really actually meant to drive people back to being subsistence farmers?

  6. bigmaq1980:

    Correct. They have to use that paper to buy our goods and services or trade with someone else who will. Other than "reserves" that nation states hold, nobody else wants to just sit on that paper.

    Despite what many say in the political realm about "Buy America", people have essentially "voted" with their dollars to do otherwise, on their own perception of the trade-off between value/quality and price.

    "Buy Local" is just another "flavor" of that story.

  7. Matthew Slyfield:

    " Local food folks somehow have gotten locked into transportation costs
    as the key driver of food sustainability that they want to focus on, but
    transportation costs are 10% or less of most food costs."

    Cost isn't what the local food movement is about. It's about global warming and the CO2 footprint of your food.

  8. Matthew Slyfield:

    "Yep. Its the same sort of thinking that says its good to 'buy American'
    but buying something made outside the country harms us - even if its
    less expensive and of better quality."

    Nope, the local food movement is about global warming / CO2 emissions, not money / local economy.

  9. Matthew Slyfield:

    "How local is local?" they never say.

    I say we try to mess with them by trying to convince them that it is 0.125 miles. :)

  10. bigmaq1980:

    Strange thing, it is not just progressives, but some self proclaimed very conservative folks.

    Had a card carrying Tea Party member describe the importance of buying local food, and that we somehow "lost our way" when there would be "seasonal cycles" in what we eat. It was nearly a paleo nutrition type of argument (we are losing "bio diversity"), mixed with some quasi economic "logic".

    I told him I prefer to enjoy oranges all year round, and that my elders would tell me how it would be a "treat" at Christmas. I also said that I like buying my wife flowers, likely imported from around the world, weekly.

  11. bigmaq1980:

    R U Not Sure?

  12. DaveK:

    Well, it could be worse... They could be irrigating umpteen thousands of acres of corn, in order to sell it to buyers in the Midwest.

    They actually used to do this with wheat in Saudi Arabia! They grew it for export! I don't remember the number of cubic meters of water per bushel, but it was quite a lot of precious groundwater that was effectively exported in this way. They also had some of the biggest dairies in the world, and they exported milk! It took around two cubic meters of groundwater to produce each liter of milk that they sold outside the Kingdom at bargain prices. By now, the Saudis may have realized the error of their ways, but I'd bet not.

  13. jon49:

    The main thing that is nice about local is that the produce can be picked riper and has an incredible flavor when done so. Other than that there isn't much reason to buy local or grow your own.

  14. jon49:

    Try going down to central America and eating fresh mango. I can't eat mango in the states for a whole year until I forget how wonderful the taste of freshly picked mango is.

  15. Pinebluff:

    Just love the citrus fruit grown in Montana and Idaho.

  16. slocum:

    I've seen both (bogus) rationales featured prominently.

  17. terry colon:

    Local means in your back yard. That way you keep the money in the family. Can't get better than that, right?

  18. MJ:

    Yes, this. The rationale keeps changing depending on whom they're trying to sell their snake oil to. The climate change argument is used to sell the idea to the green crowd. The local 'economy' argument is usually pitched to elected officials and local business owners who might be receptive to mercantilist logic.

    It's always a bad argument but, as Warren notes, it's a particularly bad argument in the case of Arizona where it is backward both environmentally and economically. Quite the two-fer. Somebody should ask Mr. Johnson what will happen to the demand for food when people are asked to pay 25-50% more for produce in order to buy locally.

  19. slocum:

    But cost and energy use are closely related. Final transport energy usage is also a small fraction of the total energy used in food production, storage, and distribution Trying to grow crops locally, in climates where they are ill-suited requires more energy and generates more CO2:

    In fact, in the case of apples, more CO2 is generated by cold storage of British grown apples than in transport of fresh apples from New Zealand. Similarly, tropically-grown fresh flowers generate much less CO2 after shipping than do flowers grown locally in Dutch greenhouses.

  20. ErikTheRed:

    I've got some background in logistics, so a few years ago when this started becoming the rage I worked out how far a modern intermodal logistics and distribution system can move your food for the amount of fuel it takes to take a Toyota Prius on a four mile round-trip to the grocery store (the distance for my personal residence). The answer, depending on exactly which combinations you use, is somewhere between a thousand miles and halfway around the world.

    So basically, no matter where your food is grown the fuel consumption involved in delivery to the store in most cases will be absolutely dwarfed by the fuel used to pick up the groceries and drive them home. Keep in mind, too, that locally grown produce is generally delivered on smaller trucks with far less efficient routing and distribution, so while I wasn't sufficiently motivated to figure out exactly what the difference was I'd very quickly bet that the fuel consumption for distributing the locavore produce (per pound or cubic foot or whatever of groceries) is as high or higher than the fuel consumption for your standard supermarket fare.

  21. Matthew Slyfield:

    Well yes, but the global warming crowd frequently pushes things that are counter productive, just look at the amount of energy, toxic inputs and toxic byproducts from the manufacture of wind turbines and solar panels.

  22. Craig:

    Yep, it's the same newspaper that last week was lecturing us about our increasingly waterless future as a result of our wasteful ways. Now we need to use more water for irrigation.

    And I haven't had a good tomato since I moved here 18 years ago, unless i am back east.

  23. Max:

    That's kind of a straw man argument. What I hear more often is that local food especially fruits and vegetables are fresher and thus better. Don't know about whether this is truly right if food is transported within a day hundreds of miles. It could be fresh too.