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How global is my local milk? Evaluating the first-order inputs of “local” milk in Hawai‘i


“Local food” is gaining in popularity, particularly within a rising alternative food movement, yet it remains an ambiguous term. We use an illustrative example—the case of “local milk” in Hawai‘i—to demonstrate this point. We evaluate "localness" by measuring the origins of production inputs by economic value and physical mass–an approach that is akin to the Made in America standard. The innovative method we propose is easily replicable to other food products or locations worldwide. We find that most first order production related inputs are obtained from non-local sources. Our findings are significant to the local food debate because a focus beyond the point of production to upstream inputs in the life cycle of a food item can push towards a re-framing what local means both in Hawai‘i and beyond. In particular, our findings suggest that production system type, as opposed to location of production end-point, might have a greater impact on the degree of localness of a product. Looking forward, a shift in focus towards production system characteristics may help researchers make headway in exploring the environmental and economic effects of local food.

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  1. However at the time of writing the state of Vermont established a legal statute defining the term “local” as goods that originate within Vermont or 30 miles of the place where they are sold (

  2. To determine the percentage domestic content in a particular product, manufacturers and marketers use the cost of goods sold or inventory costs of finished goods in their analysis. These costs generally are limited to the total cost of all manufacturing materials, direct manufacturing labor, and manufacturing overhead.

  3. While this is an important critique, it is worth noting that nearly all contemporary economic activity—from “local” food to manufactured items labeled Made in America - exists in the context of a globalized commodity system, which makes entirely ‘domestically produced’ items difficult to come by.

  4. See Gupta (2016) for greater elaboration on Farm A.

  5. In 1992, the grocery store chain KTA decided to pay the processing company Meadowgold for special processing of the milk from Farm B dairy destined for their stores. This Mountain Apple milk was kept separate from imported mainland milk and packaged into special cartons bearing the store’s Mountain Apple logo, which signifies items grown, processed or manufactured in Hawaii (as well as a disclaimer stating “free of artificial growth hormones”).


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The authors wish to thank Drs. Marian Chertow, Reid Lifset, Alon Shepon, and Gidon Eshel for their insightful comments on previous drafts of this manuscript, and to Tanaya Duttagupta for her careful edits. The authors are also grateful to the two dairy farms who agreed to be interviewed as part of this research. Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation, Award No. 1215762. The funders played no role in study design or the decision to submit this article for publication.

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Correspondence to Tamar Makov.

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Gupta, C., Makov, T. How global is my local milk? Evaluating the first-order inputs of “local” milk in Hawai‘i. Agric Hum Values 34, 619–630 (2017).

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  • Local food
  • Dairy
  • Hawai‘i
  • Sustainable food systems
  • Food labeling
  • Made in America