Topic 4: Food Miles | OFPC


Day 4:             Food Miles

Purpose:         Participants will compare and contrast conventional distribution systems and alternative methods.

Objective:       Participants will:

  • Learn about how far products travel before they can use conventional distribution systems
  • Understand what is locally grown food
  • Compare and contrast conventional distribution systems and alternative methods

Materials:       Flip Chart



Map of the United States

Ahead of time prepare 6” x 9” cards with picture of the following words

  1. For the conventional French fry food chain, create cards with words or images depicting:
    • Idaho potato
    • Big tractor
    • Texas supplier of fertilizers and pesticides
    • Factory in California where potatoes are made into frozen French fries
    • Truck/Trucker (3 or 4 cards)
    • the supermarket central distributor and location in CA
    • Supermarket in Oakland
    • Consumer in a car
  1. For the local French fry food chain, create cards with words or images depicting:
  • Local farm or urban garden
  • Manual tools or tractor (depending on what is used)
  • Manure and compost from a local farm
  • Oakland’s Farmers’ Market
  • Consumer in a car
  1. For both stories
    1. 5 or 6 cards with the words “fossil fuel”
    2. Consumer using public transportation, on a bike, or walking

Procedure:       Facilitator goes over the food system concept. Explain that this session will offer participants

the opportunity to compare and contrast how food gets to out table. We will learn that the “conventional” food systems move the produce through different part of the county and often internationally before it is ready to eat. In conventional agriculture the food is processed, clean, packaged at different part of the country. Making it very difficult trace back where and how the food was produced. In contrast when food is grow locally, the food quality improves, transportation is minimized, the cost goes down. Facilitator has the opportunity to compare with other produce

Time:               120 minutes

Time                Activity

5 Min               Welcome/Framing

  • Go over Agenda/Purpose
  • Review Agreements

15 Min             Group Check-in

                        Facilitator asks participants to introduce themselves responding to the following questions:

  • Where do they get their food from?
  • How far do they travel to get something healthy to eat?

15 Min             Review Food Systems

Poster Board Sign

“A   Food system includes all processes involved in feeding a population: growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption, and disposal of food and food-related items.” 

Let’s go over each Process and define it collectively. Let’s pick an example to make it tangible. Did anyone eat a piece of fruit today? Choose a fruit to track its progress through the food system. Draw it on a piece of paper.

Growing and Harvestinge>Processing>Distribution/Transportation>Consumption>Waste

60 Min             The Traveling Potatoes Group Activity

                        Facilitator initiates the session by asking the following questions:

  • Who likes French fries?
  • Baked potatoes? Mashed potatoes?
  • Where do potatoes come from?
  • Has anyone ever grown a potato?
  • Does anyone know how far your food travels, on the average, from farm to table? (Answer: 1,500 miles)


  • Distribute all the 6” x 9” cards with pictures.
  • Ask the group to form a circle. Start with the conventional French fry food chain.
  • Hand out the big map of the United States and all the cards in the conventional food chain set except the fossil fuel cards. This could be done on the floor in the middle of the circle.
  • Ask participants to look around the circle and familiarize themselves with everyone’s card. Clarify any new terms, if necessary.
  • Ask a volunteer to read the story of the Conventional French Fry (below) slowly, once through.

Group Activity

  • Facilitator reads the story again. Ask participants to form a “food chain” creating a line that image the sequence of steps that is required to get a conventionally grown Idaho potato from farm to table, moving slowly into position as the narrator reads the story of its travel (Below).
  • Once the group agreed on the sequence of steps they have formed, the facilitator connects the participants and their cards with string. Facilitator adds the fossil fuel cards, when appropriate, to emphasize the many energy intensive steps that it takes the potatoes to travel.
  • Optional: The travel sequence may also be traced on the map [with markers or string] to further emphasize the distance traveled by the potatoes.

Repeat process using Local French Fry food chain. (Below)

Story of Conventional French Fries:

The potatoes are grown in a large-scale commercial farm in Idaho where synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are used. These fertilizers and pesticides were manufactured in Texas. After the potatoes are grown, they are harvested and shipped to a factory in Nebraska where they are cut and frozen into French fries. They are bagged and labeled and then shipped halfway across the country in a freezer truck to Trader Joe’s Central distributor in California. From the distributor they are shipped to Trader Joe’s Market in Oakland, CA, where a customer purchases them.

Story of Locally Produce French Fries

Local urban garden grows potatoes using compost and mulch from local farms. They use no-till raised beds rather than a tractor. They sell their potatoes at an Oakland Farmer’s Market. A consumer purchases some potatoes and goes home to cut and fry them up into French fries. They might even recycle the oil and make biodiesel!

20 Min             Discussion

What are the main differences in the two systems?

What are some of the pros and cons of the food sourced nationally or internationally versus food grown locally?

How does either of these systems affect the environment? Energy? Waste? Jobs?

Brainstorm in session– Facilitator or designated person write answers on butcher paper.

What can you do individually to change food systems?

What can we do together to change food systems?

What can society do to change food systems?

(Provide examples if group is stuck)

15 Min             Evaluation

Thank the group for their participation. Remind them that this is a pilot process and we are

looking for their input to improve the training. Create a list for both strengths and areas of


5 Min               Check-out