Throughout the world, agriculture is in crisis. Farmers are going bankrupt in record numbers, and rural communities are being drained of life.
Meanwhile international trade in food is booming, and as a result the distance between producers and consumers is growing: already, the average American meal has traveled more than 1,500 miles before it arrives on the dinner table.
These two trends are directly linked. The globalization of the food economy is enriching a small number of giant agribusinesses, while undermining the welfare of everyone else. What's more, it is a major contributor to increased CO2 emissions, and therefore to climate change.
We urgently need to move in precisely the opposite direction – towards shortened links between farmers and consumers. Localizing the food economy returns diversity to land that has been all but destroyed by chemical-intensive monocropping, provides badly-needed jobs at the local level, and helps to rebuild community. Moreover, it allows farmers to make a decent living while giving consumers access to healthy, fresh food at affordable prices.
Local food is good for the South too. Despite what the multinational corporations would like us to believe, we are not helping people in the less industrialized parts of the world if we encourage them to grow food for export rather than for themselves.
For more than three decades, ISEC has worked to raise awareness about the real costs of global food and the multiple benefits of a worldwide shift towards the local. Our activities have ranged from the grassroots to the international policy level, and have employed a wide range of methods – from local workshops to international conferences, from reports and books to documentary films – to get the message out.
Over the years, we have been among the pioneers of the local food movement internationally:
- 1993: We establish the very successful "Food Links" program – a precursor to the CSA model – working with the Soil Association in the UK.
- 1997: We help organize the Bath farmers' market – the first farmers' market in the UK in modern times – launching a trend that has grown to more than 500 markets today.
- 2000: We organize the "Local Food, Global Prosperity" conference in London, featuring Vandana Shiva, Wendell Berry, and Helena Norberg-Hodge. The conference is instrumental in spreading the local food message in the UK.
- 2003: Our Local Food Toolkit, a multimedia critique of the global food economy and compelling argument for shortening the distance between farmers and consumers, wins the Derek Cooper Award for Campaigning and Investigative Food Writing. The Toolkit, consisting of a narrated slideshow, a full-size poster series, fact-sheets and action guides, brings the argument for local food directly to the public. (For more information on our Local Food Toolkit, click here.)
- 2011: Our award-winning film, The Economics of Happiness, is released. Along with a plea for a broad shift from global to local, the film includes many of the arguments in favor of local food, and dispels the myths that prevent people from understanding how local food can "feed the world".
Over the years, ISEC has also written extensively about local food for a wide range of audiences:
- Bringing the Food Economy Home: Local Alternatives to Global Agribusiness provides hard facts and figures to back up the case for local food. Written in an accessible style, the book serves as a valuable introduction to the ecology, economics, and politics of food for the general reader.
- Ripe for Change: Rethinking California's Food Economy is a ground-breaking report that considers the benefits of localizing the food economy in California. Looking at the state's food system from seed to table, it brings to light many of the hidden costs of what is often assumed to be one of the most successful food systems in the world.
- From the Ground Up: Rethinking Industrial Agriculture, written in 1993, has been widely used in educational settings in the UK and North America, and a new edition was published in 2000.
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