County adopts ‘buy local’ policy

Supervisors join national trend of giving preference to food that’s farmed locally for health, economic reasons

bcuddy@thetribunenews.comJuly 28, 2012 

Buying food from local growers is a good idea for a cornucopia of reasons, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors said, and they have backed that assertion by adopting a “buy local” policy.

The “local food purchase policy,” adopted last week, has both practical and symbolic implications and is part of a nationwide movement, according to Kathleen Karle, the county’s health promotion division manager.

The county itself buys food only for its jail and Juvenile Services Center. According to a staff report, it spent $595,494 in the 2010-2011 fiscal year. Of that, $94,550 was spent on produce.

However, Supervisor Chairman Jim Patterson said, “we are hoping that the policy will be used as a model for other jurisdictions. Other entities are interested but wanted the county to go first.”

“If the county passes this policy and influences what they have control of, and other jurisdictions also follow suit, and then institutions follow suit (hospitals, schools etc),” Karle wrote, “we can really make a difference.”

“Interestingly,” Karle wrote in an email to The Tribune, “we worked with the Farm Bureau and some of their growers when we were developing this.

(People with) the Pismo-Oceano Vegetable Exchange said they have had markets on the East Coast stop buying from them because the markets are now focusing more on buy local.”

“This really is a national movement,” Karle wrote.

Karle added that the first “buy local” policy her group found in the United States was in Woodbury County, Iowa, in 2006. Since then, many other jurisdictions have passed these policies, she wrote.

“Our County Counsel found many jurisdictions in California that have also passed — or are considering — buy local policies,” she added.

Why is buying local better? A 40-member consortium of local groups known collectively as HEAL-SLO (Healthy Eating Active Living — San Luis Obispo) cites several reasons.

Buying local, the group says:

• Supports the local economy.

• Preserves agricultural land by keeping local growers in business. The county lost 7,000 acres of farmland to urban sprawl from 2000 to 2002, according to a county report.

• Makes healthier and fresher food available because the food travels shorter distances and is stored for a far shorter period of time.

“Certain foods such as apples may remain in … storage facilities for up to a year before they reach a grocery store,” according to the report.

The buy local policy is part of a larger effort by HEAL-SLO, formerly known as the Childhood Obesity Task Force, to improve public health, especially for children, through wiser eating and increased physical activity.

It has, for example, sought to dissuade people from drinking sugary beverages by giving 175 presentations to 3,000 people at school, preschool and after-school programs, as well as to parents and nonprofits.

It also has tried to get children to eat healthier snacks between meals through a program it calls “Go, slow, whoa.”

The group has sponsored walk and bike to school days, held fruit and vegetable tastings at local elementary schools and helped develop school gardens.

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