We have been exploring the food landscape in our area lately, looking for locally produced food. As we have searched, we have also explored what we mean by "local". What we have found is localness varies with the item and the season. In truth, LOCAL is a pretty fuzzy concept. (See Bart Kosko's book Fuzzy Thinking for more on fuzzyness.)
So, we have been poking at criteria, trying to create a way to measure localness (it seems that local isn't the only important factor...)
One factor is distance. Closer is better. For many things, we are trying to find/develop sources within 20 miles of home. Ideally we will get as close as 5 miles. Since we are a farm, we expect many things will be produced within a few hundred feet of our house. But, some things that we use often will not be that local.
Sugar for example. We use a lot of sugar in our fudge business (see our Local Harvest Store.) There is no source for sugar within 20 miles of our house, but there is a sugar plant in the state that makes sugar from beets grown within our region. It's a better option than importing sugar from points further south, because we use a lot.
A second factor we have tried to consider is quantity. Bulky things, or things that we use large quantities of, we hope to find very close to home. Less bulky things, like spices we will accept from further away.
Production methods are our third factor. This one is harder to pin down. Ideal is pure, sustainable, eco/organic from our backyard. Reality is a balance between eco-friendly methods, fair-trade, distance, and other issues.
I felt ambivalent about our hour long drive to the farmers market in search of "local" food. An hour away is outside my ideal for items we use a lot of, like flour, potatoes, greens, etc. But, at this time there are no closer options that I have found and the trip was a much better option than the "local" Super-Walmart.
How would you define local?
Does it influence what you buy?