Local food's growth in popularity is promising
When Floridians go grocery shopping at supermarkets, they are picking up not just locally grown oranges and strawberries, but vegetables like tomatoes and even local fish and beef. A study called "Local Food Systems in Florida," released earlier this year by the University of Florida, found that 20 percent of the food we buy is from in-state sources or within 100 miles from where we live. In a one-year period, local food sales were $8.3 billion - and surprisingly, 75 percent of that chunk came from grocery store sales, said Alan Hodges, extension scientist with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. That is cheery news. It shows local food has gone mainstream. People want to eat fresh food, and supermarkets have responded to that demand.It also means local farms that grow and supply the food are benefiting. So are farmers markets, roadside vendors, U-pick farms and other distributors. In a state whose weather allows produce to grow year-round, this trend is very promising, and hopefully, will translate into greater acreage and variety. Hodges predicted that the percentage of locally grown food may increase in the coming years. The agricultural community and ag officials should look carefully at this survey, especially at the areas that show a potential for growth. What's also interesting about the survey is that respondents were not just affluent, health-conscious people as one would expect. They came from all income levels, and some were even prepared to pay more for fresh food. More than 72 percent of the respondents were female, and 73 percent were between the ages of 45 and 84. About 45 percent had an annual household income level less than $50,000, and 30 percent had household incomes of $50,000 to $99,000. Anybody who has had Plant City-grown strawberries and even our own orange blossom honey and fresh orange juice knows it's got a flavor and freshness that's hard to beat. Let's hope all Floridians bring to their tables food that comes from their very own Sunshine State.