Being a locavore can be confusing. Eating broccoli from the local farm stand tastes good and makes many of us feel good. It is a pleasure to support local farmers and get vegetables the day they were picked.
On the other hand, inefficiency is one huge problem.
Specializing makes economic sense. Almonds, strawberries and grapes should come from Californians because their weather and soil conditions optimize output. Warm days, cool nights and fertile volcanic soil make Idaho one of the best places to grow russet potatoes. Concerned about carbon emissions? It is likely that the inefficiencies of local production more than offset the carbon emissions from long distance transportation.
And yet, proposed legislation from an Ohio Senator and a Minnesota Congresswoman, The Local Food, Farms and Jobs Act, supports small farm production. Or as one of the bill’s sponsors said, “Making it easier for farmers to sell food locally and easier for consumers to buy it translates directly into a more healthy economy and more jobs in our communities.” By contrast, one researcher estimates that it means much less food production per acre and additional use of fertilizers and chemicals.
Do you support The Local Food, Farms and Jobs Act?
The Economic Lesson
Specifically linking Albany and Buffalo, the Erie Canal facilitated a national market in the U.S. As an inexpensive way to transport Midwestern farm produce, it let the Northeast focus on manufacturing.
As the efficiencies of specialization fueled economic growth, economist David Ricardo (1772-1823) would have been delighted.