By Anna Clark.
From open-air farmers markets to community gardens to farm-to-table menus, the local food movement has been a powerful catalyst in urban placemaking. It’s an elegant and seemingly all-encompassing formula, a way to at once connect residents and tourists to the local ecosystem, cultivate accessible healthy eating, contribute to economic vitality, minimize the carbon footprint, and serve as a nexus of urban beauty and community.
It’s not just a good theory; it’s popular in practice. The number of nationwide farmers markets has only recently stabilized after more than a decade of stunning growth. The value of face-to-face farm sales rose by 36 percent between 1997 and 2002, and again rose by 32 percent between 2002 and 2007, before dropping 1 percent between 2007 and 2012. A staggering 8,268 farmers markets were operating in 2014, representing a 180 percent jump from 2006.
But all is not as it seems.
Laura Reiley, the food critic at the Tampa Bay Times, recently delivered a riveting two-part series called “Farm to Fable” that hones in on the specious claims of “local food” at restaurants and farmers markets. She took samples from restaurants that were celebrated for their seasonal menus, and submitted them to scientists for testing, and she visited the small farms that many restaurants claimed, in pretty chalkboard lettering, to be partnering with. “Fiction started seeming like the daily special,” she found.