Survey: Tennessee ranks low in commitment to local foods

Tennessee is often at the top of national lists for the best states in which to conduct business, but it ranks poorly in terms of its commitment to local foods, according to a national food advocacy group.

The state ranks No. 40 on the Locavore Index, an annual list published by Strolling of the Heifers, a Vermont-based nonprofit. The group uses census and U.S. Department of Agriculture data, along with a per capita comparison of farmers' markets, consumer supported agriculture operations (CSAs) and food hubs to rank states in the survey.

Tennessee may rank poorly in the survey, but Linnet Overton, director of advocacy and development at Nashville-based Community Food Advocates, said Davidson County would likely rank higher if it were evaluated separately. She said great strides have been made in in the local food market. Several neighborhood-specific farmers’ markets have sprouted up, community gardens are plentiful and there are multiple area restaurants that feature locally sourced food, including The Catbird Seat, Flyte, Wild Cow, Miel and Sloco.

“We have an amazingly active and productive local food movement in Nashville,” Overton said. “But when you look at the state as a whole, you’ll find there are a lot of communities, particularly in rural areas, that lack access. It’s a very long journey to make the changes necessary to improve accessibility.”

The term “locavore,” and the locavorism movement, are recent additions to the cultural vocabulary. “Locavore” made its first appearance in 2005 and was designated the 2007 Word of the Year by the Oxford American Dictionary. As a movement, locavorism advocates a preference for local food because that food is generally fresher, has shorter (i.e., more environmentally friendly) trucking hauls and is wasted less in distribution, warehousing and merchandising.

According to the survey, the top five states for locavorism, in order, are Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Iowa.