Iowa's July sweet corn might be only minutes from the table, but many of the other fresh foods that Iowans eat are more than a 1,500-mile truck ride away, according to a new report, from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

The report, "Food, Fuel and Freeways," looked at the distance traveled by fresh fruits, vegetables and meat served as part of three Leopold Center-funded projects that used locally-sourced food grown by Iowa farmers. The report found that the food traveled an average of 45 miles from farm to point of sale, compared to 1,546 miles had the same items come from conventional sources.

"We know that an increasing number of farmers and consumers are interested in local and regional foods, because of added income opportunities for farmers, quality, taste, freshness and strong farm-community linkages," said Rich Pirog, education coordinator, at the Leopold Center, and the report's lead author. "We wanted to also look at some possible environmental benefits of local and regional-based food systems."

The report compares the miles traveled by 28 fresh produce items that are grown in Iowa--including broccoli, lettuce, grapes and potatoes--in local, regional and conventional systems. The report also compared fuel usage and carbon dioxide emissions in the three systems.

The conventional system was represented by semitrailer trucks transporting produce from farms across the country to Iowa. The report assumed that in a local or regional system, which includes farmers markets and sales to institutional markets, food would come directly from cooperating farmers via semitrailer, mid-size or light-duty trucks.

Findings showed that the conventional system used four to 17 times more fuel and emitted five to 17 times more CO2, then the local and regional systems, depending on the system and truck type. The study also found that produce arriving by truck, at the Chicago terminal market from the continental United States, traveled 22% farther in 1998 than it did in 1981. Compared to 20 years ago, nearly twice as much produce arriving at the Chicago terminal market is from outside the continental United States.

Pirog said Iowans would see other benefits if they ate more locally and regionally-grown foods. According to estimates in the report, Iowa farmers would gain $54.3 million in sales, if an additional 10% of the 28 fruits and vegetables studied came from in-state sources. Increases in farm sales also would benefit Iowa communities.

Other authors include Kamyar Enshayan, assistant professor at the University of Northern Iowa, and two Leopold Center interns, Timothy Van Pelt and Ellen Cook.

Copies of the paper are available by contacting the Leopold Center, at (515) 294-3711. The paper also can be found on the center's Website,

The Leopold Center was created by the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act that established a fee on nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides sold in the state. Through its research and education programs, the Leopold Center supports the development of profitable farming systems that conserve natural resources.

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