Locally-Grown: What Does it Mean?

by Catherine Haug

In these tough times, many people are rightfully turning to locally-produced foods for their families.  In fact, there’s a boom in home gardeners, roadside stands and farmers’ markets.  And a few local meat producers are selling pasture-fed products directly to customers (no feedlot involved).

The reasons to buy local are many; here are a few:

  • Fresher and more healthful produce, meats
  • Riper and tastier produce
  • Helps the local economy
  • Has potential to create jobs

Locally Grown Processed Foods

But what about processed foods that claim to be “locally grown?”  Are they truly local?

Well, some are.  For example, Eva Gates Huckleberry Preserves.  The hucks grow wild right here; they are harvested by locals, then prepared in a local kitchen, right here, in the village.  The owner lives here and supports the local economy.

Noting the success of the “locally grown” trend, many processed food companies are now trying to get on the “local” bandwagon, by advertising as locally grown in the areas where the raw ingredients are grown.

Take for example, Lay’s potato chips, currently promoting their product as “Good for Montana” at our Bigfork Harvest Foods.  The potatoes are grown in Idaho and Washington – almost local.  And they may even be processed in Idaho.  But Lay’s is owned by a large industrial company with international interests:  PepsiCo.  Hardly local.  And those lovely, crisp chips are made in large, automated, industrial factories.  The bulk of the profits go into PepsiCo’s coffers, not back into the local economy.

What about Meadow Gold dairy products, such as milk and ice cream?  Until the recent closure of the local processing plant, our local dairies sold their milk to Meadow Gold.  But there’s no guarantee that a jug of Meadow Gold milk purchased at a local store was 100% local milk.  Meadow Gold (owned by Dean Foods of Dallas TX) buys milk from dairy farmers all over the west.  It may be processed at a local plant, or trucked to a centralized facility to be mixed with milk from non-local areas.  And you’ll never know.

Added Ingredients in Processed Foods

What about the added ingredients in processed foods; could you grow them in your garden or on a local farm?  And, are they healthful?

What about preservatives such as BHA and BHT?  What about “artificial flavors” and “flavor enhancers?”

These are all industrial chemicals. You could not make them in your kitchen, and they do no good in your body.

Truly Local Processed Food

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only good processed foods are those “processed” from scratch in my own or my neighbor’s kitchen:  yogurt, cheese, soups, stews, casseroles, fermented foods (pickles, sauerkraut, chutney), etc., made from fresh ingredients grown right here in the Flathead.  And breads, cakes and pastries made with Montana-grown grains.  You can’t beat the flavor nor the healthfulness.

Of course, it may take longer to make it from scratch, requiring time you can ill-afford.  Your next best bet is to eat at locally owned restaurants that feature locally produced foods.  See Farm Hands Map for more.  (NOTE: The Raven in Woods Bay, and La Provence in Bigfork use locally grown ingredients, but are not yet listedon Farm Hands).


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