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Published: Monday 15 July, 2013

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With hot August days comes the heart of the harvest. On a recent Saturday morning in downtown St. Paul, hundreds of shoppers streamed through the streets toward the farmers market. They crammed through the aisles between the stands, cloth bags straining with loads of fresh produce. Eager vendors stood proudly behind tables overflowing with lettuces, peppers, eggplants and deepred tomatoes. Farmers or their kids or grandkids chatted with customers while thumbing thick wads of small bills. It was all a vital hubbub of industry, commerce and abundance.

Why burden such a buoyant scene with the dubious ideology of those who insist on hanging a public virtue upon everything enjoyable? I mean, of course, locavores: the localfoodies for whom its not enough that food is fresh and tasty; it must also be low in food miles to save local farms, to save the local economy, to save hand bags sale the planet.

Does it matter whether food products sit in cold storage within 50 miles of the Twin Cities or hurtle down the highway in a refrigerated 18wheeler from California?

More important to freshness and nu hand bags sale tritional value than the time or distance traveled, says Marion Nestle, a professor of public health at New York University, is the cold chain between harvest and table. If it were refrigerated under ideal conditions, the losses from travel should be quite small, Nestle says.

Buying food locally is often touted as a way to save fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gases. Iowa State University reported in 2001 that, on average, an item of fresh produce travels more than 1,500 miles from farm to fork. If you cut that to 50 miles, wouldnt you save a lot of fuel and carbon dioxide?

You might think so, but transportation accounts for surprisingly little of the greenhouse gas produced by the food industry only 4 percent, according to Chris Weber, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Whats more, that small amount is split between longdistance haulage and the local transport necessary whether food is local or not. Eating local would get rid of the most fuelefficient transport trains and 18wheelers while keeping the least efficient such as the pickups and panel trucks at farmers markets.

By far the least efficient component of the food transportation system is the customers personal vehicle. I calculated that a fully loaded 18wheeler carrying produce from California to Minnesota consumes about a quart of fuel per 25pound load. I burn about the same amount of fuel making a special trip to the St. Paul Farmers Market in my Honda Civic to buy a 25pound bag of local groceries.

The limits of localism

Locavores also argue that local purchases support local economies. But even if local farmers were somehow more deserving of our patronage than, say, a migrant worker in Californias Central Valley, such a strategy would fail, said Arthur Rolnick, director of research for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Its been trade that makes economies wealthy, he says.

Buying local would benefit the local economy only if we could convince others in Utah or China, for instance to also buy from Minnesota.

But if Minnesotans buy local, and everyone else buys local, no one enjoys the comparative advantages and prosperity that trade has offered since Roman traders were schlepping olive oil around the Mediterranean 2,000 years ago.

If patronizing local producers is so important to building local economies, why did I see so many foreign cars parked at the farmers market? Everyone who believes that should be driving Ranger pickups, assembled at the St. Paul Ford plant, says Rolnick. You arent. Think about this instead: Buying at the local farmers market is a way to take part in the harvest, to reestablish a link between land hand bags sale and table.

And its a refreshing counterpoint to industrial scale farming, which seems neither human in scale nor humane in operation, no matter how efficient and necessary to feed a hungry world. hand bags sale