What is a food shed?

A food shed is the geographical area between where food is produced and where the food is consumed. Here is why it matters.

A food shed is the geographical area between where food is produced and where that food is consumed. The food shed concept is similar to a watershed -- both encompass the flow of a substance from its origin to its ultimate destination. An alternative definition of a food shed is a geographic area that supplies a population center with food.  Both these definitions emphasize the geographical context of our food -- where it comes from and where it ends up.

With food products travelling an average of 1,300 miles in the United States, most of our current food sheds are considered global. However, there are many advantages to having more localized food sheds, defined as a food shed where food is consumed within 100 hundred miles of where it was produced. Think of a local farmers’ market or through a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. Some of these benefits include fresher foods that keep our food dollars circulating in our local economy. Other benefits include a reduction in resources used in packaging and transport that would reduce emissions and combat climate change and solid waste disposal issues.

More local food sheds consist of a direct farm to table food delivery system such as farmers’ markets, CSAs and “u-pick farms” are alternatives to our largely global food system. Local food sheds consist of self-reliant locally or regionally based food systems supplied by diversified farms that are practicing sustainable agriculture. They are also often producing fresher, more nutritious food to local processors and distributors and ultimately to consumers. This more localized system would vary our food sources and reduce the current concentration of the food production and processing system, thereby increasing local food security. New advances in season extension technologies and practices make utilizing local food shed sources more practical than ever.

Many local food sheds cannot be entirely self-sufficient, especially those in urban areas. However, most can expand their capacity to the benefit of their local economy and food security. So consider to buy more local food products and support your local farmers and community. For questions about where to find local farmer’s markets or “u-pick farms,” contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.

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