Localvores get flawed analysis in Progress

Local produce travels 60 miles while grocery produce averages 1,600. Too bad the latter is more fuel-efficient.

That's what the Boston Globe revealed last year in "The localvores dilemma." Such analysis is lacking in this morning's Daily Progress story in which a a reporter and headline writer seem to believe that "local produce saves energy in huge way."

However, what follows is a horror of fuel consumption about what happens with local produce: the average farmer's market vendor travels 60 miles for each visit.
Picture 311 pickup trucks, station wagons, SUVs, and sedans converging at the downtown City Market each bearing just a few bushels of veggies. The researcher found that the Market burns through as much energy as 18 homes.

Suddenly, that lone 18-wheeler bearing a giant load and hoofing it over from the American Midwest or California doesn't seem so bad. It's obvious that the fuel-expended per food item on the trip from the factory farm is actually much less.

Several of us at the Hook wouldn't dream of getting our veggies anywhere but from a CSA . But while there are a lot of great reasons to buy locally, transport fuel efficiency is not one of them.
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7 comments

The moral of the story is that it's actually hugely, hugely difficult to calculate how much energy goes into anything. For more on this, I recommend Michael Specter's "Big Foot," from a recent New Yorker or, for the audio-inclined, a briefer podcast on the topic.

The volume sold is so small, how could it matter anyway? Think of it this way, the vendors are probably coming to town anyway. Or, the buyers are driving in individual cars to either the grocery store or the farmers market. So the split of buyer/vendor in transportation might go from 90/10 to 80/20, whatever. The vendor is still selling to a lot more than one customer, each of whom drives, around here anyway.

Water transport is more efficient than rail is more efficient than highway. That British study showed it was cheaper to ship peaches or something from Portugal to England than to grow them in British greenhouses. Even air transport can beat heating a greenhouse, such as flying in flowers to Holland from Africa. Which if any is sustainable is another question. It really comes down to how we're going to make electricity when the oil dries up. "Efficient" ships rely on cheap fuel grades leftover from the oil refining process. Airplanes need something like jet fuel because batteries are to heavy. So other uses will probably have to move to electricity. Conservation, meager wind & solar, toxic coal & nuclear, it is going to be difficult.

your math is flawed. The produce from across the country has to be trucked to the semi in pick up trucks (which probably travel 60 miles) then must be redisrtibuted, sorted, packed, refrigerated, etc for the long journey, then unloaded resorted, unpacked etc. all the while losing freshness since it was picked early to prevent spoilage.
The other issue is spoilage. Think of the overproduction nessasary to insure that enough makes it to market.

This article needs a do over

I know the Globe article you cite above caused a stir in the "localvore" community when it came out, drawing a lot of criticism. I'm not sure how appropriate it would be to cite it.
But umm, yea. You sure showed the other publication.

Small quibble: I believe the word is "locavore," the 2007 Oxford Word of the Year.

http://blog.oup.com/2007/11/locavore/

http://www.locavores.com/

There is room for local and non-local in our market place. It's healthier having fresh fruit and vegetables year-round and our diverse population enjoy foods from around the globe.