May 01, 2014 8:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Utah is falling behind when it comes to the local food movement.

The Vermont-based advocacy group Strolling of the Heifers has compiled a “Locavore Index” that ranks states by their commitment to local food, and Utah is 43rd out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. What’s more, Utah slipped six places in just two years, falling from 37th in the group’s 2012 Index, though up one from 2013’s No. 44.

There are a few reasons why Utah gets such low marks.

Despite its population of 2.9 million people, the state has a paltry 40 farmers markets, according to the Locavore Index. Compare that with Iowa, which has a similar population—just over 3 million—but boasts a whopping 229 farmers markets. In fact, only three other states have fewer farmers markets: Chilly Alaska has 31, tiny Delaware has 28, and sparsely populated South Dakota has 39. Washington, D.C.—which isn’t even a state—has 35.

The Locavore Index also finds that Utah has a low percentage of farm-to-school programs and no “food hubs,” facilities that manage distribution of foods from farms. Finally, Utah has a relative dearth of consumer-supported agriculture (CSA) cooperative agreements, which allow residents to become shareholders who support local farms in exchange for access to fresh, seasonal food. There are only 41 throughout the state—33 other states have more.

Why Eat Local

Eating local isn’t just trendy, it’s better for you. “Local food is fresher, healthier and tastes better, because it spends less time in transit from farm to plate, and therefore loses fewer nutrients and incurs less spoilage,” Strolling of the Heifers advises.

“I definitely think our locally grown food is going to be more nutritious,” says Rick Henriksen, MD, director of both the primary care track and the family medicine clerkship at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

Henriksen argues that noshing on local food can make eating healthy fruits and vegetables a more enjoyable experience, too. “I think the food quality is going to be improved, and you’re going to want to eat it more if it tastes good,” he says. “When I eat a locally grown tomato, I’m going to want to eat more tomatoes, because it tastes good.”

Strolling of the Heifers makes a similar assertion in its report. “A commitment to buy local encourages people to discover new fruits and vegetables, new ways to prepare food, and promotes a better appreciation of the pleasure of each season’s foods,” the group says.

What’s more, having food travel shorter distances is better for the environment because it reduces the amount of motor vehicle emissions produced. “In Salt Lake, we have such a high level of air pollution,” Henriksen says. “Using locally grown products would help out, which would lead to greater health.”

Want to get started eating more local foods? In a story about the Locavore Index, news outlet KSL lists a number of Utah farmers markets and local food resources.

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