Eat Local is not a panacea for feeding the world. People living in many places must import their food. Florida is fortunate to have great growing conditions for many types of crops, though not everything we like to eat. In Florida, supporting existing local farms and ranches helps keep those lands in agricultural production providing green space rather than converting to suburban sprawl. Farms and ranches can provide valuable ecosystem services like water storage and filtration, wildlife habitat, and sequestering carbon. Eating locally produced food also contributes to the local economy, builds resilience, and community. But, in order to feed the world’s burgeoning population, we need to increase efficiency and intensity of food production globally and optimize distribution and storage. Increased efficiency and intensity can decrease the total production acreage needed and help protect natural lands from being converted to farmland.
Ultimately, the net environmental impact of where we get our food depends on i) the local growing conditions and the intensity of practices needed to make that farmland productive, ii) how far the food must be transported to market, and iii) what the alternative land use would be for that farmland if it weren’t under production. A full life-cycle analysis is needed to thoroughly understand the dynamics of our local and global food systems. Whatever the calculations, the bottom line is that sustainable agriculture practices are needed on farms large or small, close or far.