We're No. 1 - again

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For six years and running, Vermont has topped the Locavore Index produced by the Strolling of the Heifers.

Now, this might seem like a rigged game, considering the Strolling of the Heifers is based in Brattleboro, but the Index is a compilation of a number of factors that is meant to be unbiased and representative of efforts by each state to encourage the growth and consumption of local foods. So, yes, while Vermont is a small state with a small population, when everything is factored in, it still tops the list.

"Our real purpose in compiling the index is to spotlight local food trends throughout the country and to encourage more efforts in every state to spread the benefits of healthy local foods and strong local food systems," said Orly Munzing, executive director of Strolling of the Heifers.

The 2017 Index, which was issued on Monday, incorporates updated information on the number of farmers markets, the number of CSAs and the number of food hubs on a per-capita basis, along with updated date for each state's USDA grants relating to food production for local markets. The Index also includes the dollar volume of direct-to-the-public food sales by farmers as calculated by the USDA, but since this Census data has not been updated since 2012, its weight within the Index has been reduced.

New to this year's index is data on "farm-to-patient" programs at hospitals and health systems that seek out local food to serve to patients.

What the index shows is the Northeast is leading the nation in the growth and consumption of local foods — with New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the top 10.

That's not really a surprise for those of us who frequent farmers markets in the tri-state region or buy local products directly from area farmers. Except for some fruits, local consumers can buy pretty much everything they need for their dinner tables from local farmers. With a little bit of forethought and a chest freezer, in the fall they can stock up for the whole year.

We must note, however, that buying local can be more expensive than making purchases at the local supermarket. But what value do we put on the peace of mind that comes from knowing our chicken is not from China, our beef is not from a feedlot in the Midwest and our vegetables and fruits are not sprayed with questionable pesticides, herbicides and fungicides?

And, as the Strolling notes, when you buy local, you are supporting our friends and neighbors who work the earth in a sustainable manner while creating local jobs. Money spent locally stays local and doesn't leave the state or even the nation. There is also to be considered the carbon footprint of food that is grown or raised far afield and transported to our local supermarkets. 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.

Another thing we all know about in the tri-state region is the value of agritourism and the benefits of bringing visitors to New England, especially during foliage season when the leaves are turning, the apples are falling and the pumpkins are ready for carving.

These things, as the folks at the Strolling of the Heifers continually remind us, are vitally important in maintaining the vitality of our communities and the traditional and not-so-traditional agricultural uses of the land that surrounds us.

In a world in which technology outpaces itself almost on a daily basis, there is comfort in knowing local farmers are the bedrock of the region.

Also comforting to know is there is a whole new generation of farmers — both homegrown and newcomers to the state — who are assuming the mantle and willingly working the land to provide for their families and their communities.

The Localvore Index is an indication of the success we are having in the Northeast in providing our own food and promoting our brand. Much of that success is due to the efforts of Orly Munzing and the rest of the crew at the Strolling of the Heifers. We thank them profusely and we support their efforts, not just on Strolling weekend, but throughout the year.

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