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Food with a face

Why do consumers buy “local” foods?

By far the most important reason is to get better quality, says University of Minnesota economist Robert King, who did a 2006 survey of consumer attitudes about local foods. “People feel local foods are fresher and taste better — and probably hearing the story of how the food was produced makes it taste better, too.”

Other reasons consumers give for buying local include boosting the local economy, supporting family farmers and lowering the environmental impacts of food production and distribution, King says.

Personal values are also a factor in food buying decisions, says Bob Olson of Farmers Alliance Midwest, which certifies farms and ranches that follow sustainable practices. Consumers “want to connect with farmers that represent their values.”

Public concerns about pesticide use, animal treatment and the environment are “fueling interest

in food that offers more than quality, convenience and price,” Olson says. Natural foods sales, for example, are growing about nine percent a year, and organic foods sales are posting 20 percent annual gains, according to trade association reports.

This is one reason farmers markets and other directmarketing avenues are popular, King says. “Seeing farmers puts a human face on food.” Consumers “get the feeling they can ask how the food was produced and get an answer.”

This connection to farmers is usually lost in the fooddistribution channels. So “a lot of grocery stores are now identifying local products when they have them and even the farm they came from,” says Minnesota Grown coordinator Paul Hugunin, “because people want to know that.”