The Importance of Regional Food Systems – Now More than Ever

Chris Jepson, Grocery & Wellness Manager

Modern food systems are continually moving toward efficiency, many times at the expense of resiliency, as we’ve recently seen.

Most people are not aware that grocery stores only hold a few days’ worth of product and that they rely on continuous deliveries from distributors, wholesalers, and vendors. Thus, the entire distribution network depends on passable roads and functioning utilities, not just in our area, but over the entire region and beyond.

How can we secure our food supply, especially in an era of yearly fires, pandemics, and/or natural disasters? Local food systems offer an important alternative. Food that travels a shorter distance is less prone to disruptions and, therefore is more likely to make it onto the shelf.

In Mendocino County, we are quite blessed to live in a region with a well established local food community. The combination of favorable climate, local expertise, and willing consumers is something that we often take for granted. Eating local and eating well is possible here.

Within Mendocino County there is an abundance of produce being grown year-round. High quality grass-fed meat raised right here is widely available. We have grain being grown and milled into flour in our valley. Honey, beer, wine, cheese, seafood… the list of locally produced products is not only long the quality is excellent. Of course, eating locally can also cost more, since small farms generally do not benefit from government subsidies and economics of scale. Certified organic operations also incur additional costs. At present, only 1% of food purchases in Mendocino County are from local producers.

How can we ensure a secure local food supply? Simply by purchasing locally made products! We need to support local farmers and ranchers so they can continue raising great food for us. It’s a simple formula! Local food systems also keep our food dollars circulating in our own community.

At this point, it’s not feasible for most people to eat completely locally, though it is possible for a few. Simply committing to buying a portion of our food locally will do a lot toward keeping our local food supply viable. The Co-op offers local products of all kinds. We try to do our part to provide a retail outlet for local suppliers. We also offer a low interest loan program through the Good Farm Fund to assist farmers with improvements to their operations.