Local Food

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COLUMBIA - Locavores, they're called. It's a movement spreading nationwide with the encouragement of local food purchases. "I just heard about it from word of mouth but that those people only eat locally raised food," Marylou Mayse, owner of Show-Me Farms, said.

A United States Department of Agriculture reported Monday higher-than-expected sales "local foods." The department does not have a consensus on a definition of "local" in terms of the geographic distance between production and consumption, though it does define "local" based on farmers selling to consumers through farmers markets or intercessors such as grocery stores or restaurants.

The report said sales amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008 (the most recent year available), which is a number considerably higher than originally estimated. The USDA predicts a net worth of $7 billion in locally grown food sales in 2011.

Downtown Columbia restaurant Sycamore boasts locally grown fruits, vegetables and poultry on its menu. Main chef Mike Odette said there is a huge difference in cooking with local foods. "The varieties that we grow are grown for their flavor and not to withstand the rigors of cross country transportation," Odette said.

Eating locally is the trend. The number of farmers markets has doubled from 2,600 to 5,300 since the late 1990's, the USDA reported. Consumers are becoming more aware that eating locally is oftentimes cheaper and safer.

Mayse has been in the cattle-ranching business for eleven years now and has noticed a spike in local purchasers. "People are beginning to want to know the source of the food they eat. They can even come out here, look at our cattle, look at our operation and see how they are raised, how they are fed, and how well they are taken care of," Mayse said. The company exports to several Columbia restaurants, Hy-Vee, and mid-Missouri residents.

Odette said friendships come out of buying and selling locally grown foods. ""We've developed relationships with the people that grow vegetables for us and raise meat for us. We're giving our money to them and they're a part of our local economy," Odette said.

Odette said buying locally promotes fresh eating, but also keeps dollars circulating within mid-Missouri.