There’s been a lot of hub bub on campus about local foods. By this point, you may be wondering what exactly that means and why you should care.

“Local” has no strict definition. It could mean anything grown within a 150- to 500-mile radius. Some may even stretch the definition far enough to consider anything grown in the United States as local. To be effective in our pursuit of local foods, students and faculty need to first agree upon a concrete definition. As a SUNY campus, we should favor foods grown within the state because that contributes to a robust regional economy. Apples, as a prime example, should be sourced from New York orchards.

These past few years, the availability of local foods has improved and things are only getting better. This semester, Binghamton’s Food Co-op became a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) drop-off site for Early Morning Farm. This enables members to pick half a bushel of organic vegetables each week. Their source is guaranteed from the farm in the Finger Lakes, just 68 miles from campus. This means that the partnership directly funds state farmers and delivers fresher, higher quality foods to students.

Binghamton Acres Farm is another major success for the University. Located in the Nature Preserve and fewer than two miles from the dining halls, Acres is definitively a local food source. Though it offers less than two acres of productive land use, it is rich in knowledge. Students are introduced to the enterprise and logistics of sustainable food production. Next Thursday, Oct. 23, Acres and local farms will be the sole providers of food at the Harvest Festival dinner in the College-in-the-Woods dining hall. The improvement in ingredients makes a considerable difference in taste.

Sodexo has also incorporated student input to meet demands for local foods. Sodexo had begun working with the Real Food Challenge (RFC), a national movement targeting America’s largest food providers. The RFC crunches numbers on the provider’s sources of food, additionally accounting for each food’s locality and quality, as well as fair trade and workers’ benefits. After computing a score on how “real” the institution’s food is, the RFC uses the baseline for goals towards improvement. Student involvement has catalyzed this progress.

Local food is an essential piece in building a progressive society. It improves the health of individuals and our political system. When we support local food, we build a network of regional independence. This alleviates our dependency on corporate providers that have degraded too many American communities. When we strengthen the bonds between farms and schools, we build cultures that connect people.

Local foods also have a lower environmental impact. The most obvious reason is the decreased distance between farm and table. Most of the produce that ends up in our dining halls or grocery stores has actually traveled hundreds, even thousands, of miles. In an age of climate change, this is atrocious. Foods grown locally are often produced on a smaller scale and therefore may use fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Of course, local food is not an ultimatum. It is always important to read between the lines of “sustainability.” If we are eaters, we possess the energy to be thinkers, too. Truly sustainable food takes a bit of detective work. Appropriately, the discovery of sustainability’s ins and outs is largely driven by students. We are, after all, the inheritors of a great planet.