[Note: I will eventually get to part two of my local farming and food infrastructure post. I keep getting side tracked, in this case by something relevant.]
In fact, local food currently uses much more fossil fuel, especially in distribution, on a per pound basis. This is so painfully the case that one example will suffice, my own.
I drive seventy miles round trip to the farmers market on Saturdays. Some people drive more, some people drive less. I think that on average, my mileage is not untypical, but the average might be closer to fifty miles. This market season, on a bad day, I would sell ten pounds of meat (an amount that does not cover the cost of gas to get there). On a good day, I would sell forty to fifty. One of the biggest farmers market meat sellers in our area that I am aware of probably sells about 200 pounds a week.
Lets take a good day for me:
Miles per pound — 70 (miles driven) divided by 50 (pounds of meat) = 1.4 miles per pound
Gallons of fuel per pound — 70 (miles driven) divided by 12 (miles per gallon) = 5.8 (gallons of fuel) divided by 50 (pounds of meat) = 0.116 gallons per pound
Miles per pound — 1500 (avg. miles driven) divided by 40,000 (pounds of chicken on a tractor trailer) = 0.0375 miles per pound
Gallons of fuel per pound — 1500 (avg. miles driven) divided by 5 (miles per gallon) = 300 (gallons of fuel) divided by 40,000 (pounds of chicken) = 0.0075 gallons per pound
I would have to sell 750 pounds of meat every week to match the gallons per pound efficiency of industrial distribution. That is fifteen times more than I currently sell, and 3.75 times more than the biggest seller in our area that I am aware of.
Stop perpetuating this myth! If we believe the myth and think that in its current state local food already uses less fossil fuel, then we will not put the necessary effort into building distribution efficiencies into our infrastructures.
Local food could use less fossil fuel in distribution than industrial food. However, doing so depends on the construction of local-regional farming and food systems infrastructures that support such a thing. We need trucks with better fuel mileage. We need distribution hubs. We need investment in regional rail with terminals at those hubs. We need to de-emphasize small de-centralized retail markets and emphasize large centralized retail markets (farmers can share trucks and/or use rail). We need many more farms closer to large population centers. We need community farms integrated into suburbs. We need a whole bunch of things I can’t think of.