2021’s Best Cities for Locavores

Woman with baskets of fruits and vegetables

Eating locally is in — we are growing our own vegetables, buying produce at farmers markets, and dining more often at farm-to-table restaurants.

That’s what being a locavore is all about — eating mainly foods sourced from the local region — and interest in locally sourced foods has only grown during the pandemic. 

When many of us have been stuck at home, it helps to grow our own tomatoes, lettuce, and other vegetables. Victory gardens returned in a big way in 2020 when lockdowns set in.

But not all U.S. regions are equally locavore-friendly. So how do you know which cities have the farmers markets, urban gardening plots, and farm-to-table eateries to meet your local eating needs?

LawnStarter ranked the 150 biggest U.S. cities to take away the guesswork. We compared the cities across 14 key metrics, from the availability of butcher shops and farm-to-table restaurants to the prevalence of community-supported agriculture. Scroll down for our ranking, takeaways, expert insights and more.

(Warning: Reading this study might make you hungry. But next time you order takeout, maybe stick close to home.)

Table of Contents

  1. City Rankings
  2. Highlights and Lowlights
  3. Methodology
  4. Why This Study Matters

City Rankings

See how each city fared in our ranking:

OVERALL RANKCityOverall ScoreCommitment RankAccess RankSupport Rank
1Santa Rosa, CA39.84271
2Ontario, CA39.6826152
3Salem, OR35.821265
4Vancouver, WA34.8413548
5Worcester, MA33.87669
6Anaheim, CA33.49324121
7Yonkers, NY30.4095276
8Jersey City, NJ30.01703142
9Fort Lauderdale, FL29.54311133
10Hialeah, FL27.21101559
11Peoria, AZ26.5041913
12Oceanside, CA26.47112039
13Oxnard, CA26.3030663
14Santa Clarita, CA25.963312127
15Riverside, CA25.82162910
16Huntington Beach, CA25.632416121
17Tampa, FL23.9294638
18Oakland, CA23.75213369
19Elk Grove, CA23.69203636
20Providence, RI23.375214126
21Orlando, FL23.08850116
22Cincinnati, OH22.8355682
23Chula Vista, CA22.80382839
24Fresno, CA22.65141282
25Fremont, CA22.57442469
26Irvine, CA22.413139121
27Glendale, CA22.385022127
28Scottsdale, AZ22.38423224
29Grand Prairie, TX21.9586878
30Rancho Cucamonga, CA21.80611952
31Newark, NJ21.708310142
32Durham, NC21.62791812
33Miami, FL21.5676259
34Sacramento, CA21.51275136
35Tempe, AZ21.42404324
36Glendale, AZ21.41543024
37Bakersfield, CA21.0141464
38Washington, DC20.419713142
39Aurora, IL20.26931715
40Gilbert, AZ20.06732724
41Modesto, CA20.0234886
42Richmond, VA19.946335111
43Long Beach, CA19.673754127
44St. Petersburg, FL19.601277138
45Portland, OR19.4088477
46Winston-Salem, NC19.09297283
47Baltimore, MD19.011042321
48Tacoma, WA18.80714050
49Boston, MA18.4410621134
50St. Louis, MO18.391781112
51Atlanta, GA18.094860104
52Newport News, VA17.9110525142
53Stockton, CA17.8874598
54Chesapeake, VA17.73844194
55Fontana, CA17.70724952
56Salt Lake City, UT17.33367965
57Mobile, AL17.141910075
58Grand Rapids, MI17.021093722
59Birmingham, AL16.95239977
60Moreno Valley, CA16.70697310
61Port St. Lucie, FL16.691811318
62Cape Coral, FL16.592810274
63Santa Ana, CA16.573980121
64Virginia Beach, VA16.46359151
65Akron, OH16.281233166
66San Francisco, CA16.184978141
67San Bernardino, CA15.96656952
68Baton Rouge, LA15.9615114139
69Seattle, WA15.851114272
70Raleigh, NC15.30766446
71Irving, TX15.199853140
72McKinney, TX15.0711944107
73Chandler, AZ15.047588524
74Garland, TX14.8912045102
75Greensboro, NC14.71827149
76San Diego, CA14.705110439
77Pittsburgh, PA14.511304868
78Norfolk, VA14.508170142
79North Las Vegas, NV14.438761142
80Knoxville, TN14.20628767
81Chattanooga, TN14.16559496
82Tucson, AZ14.102512997
83Rochester, NY14.051016544
84Mesa, AZ14.05688924
85San Jose, CA14.00669320
86Augusta, GA13.8722140125
87New Orleans, LA13.865697120
88Aurora, CO13.751453457
89Overland Park, KS13.6012252113
90Philadelphia, PA13.5614138136
91Cleveland, OH13.2712155109
92Frisco, TX13.231076790
93Phoenix, AZ12.884513024
94Las Vegas, NV12.8747122142
95St. Paul, MN12.771295792
96Jacksonville, FL12.6843127119
97Honolulu, HI12.56859519
98Tallahassee, FL12.344613184
99Fayetteville, NC12.22908681
100Plano, TX12.20928390
101Denver, CO11.7812468142
102Austin, TX11.698011217
103Henderson, NV11.6864115142
104Charlotte, NC11.6611874117
105Madison, WI11.581257635
106Buffalo, NY11.491385843
107Los Angeles, CA11.3253138127
108Minneapolis, MN11.301346399
109Des Moines, IA10.999410723
110Little Rock, AR10.7367123115
111Brownsville, TX10.7157139108
112Indianapolis, IN10.4911682110
113Shreveport, LA10.495914545
114Nashville, TN10.429610679
115Huntsville, AL10.147512461
116Montgomery, AL10.1360143118
117New York, NY10.0712784114
118Arlington, TX10.01108105105
119Columbus, GA9.8089116135
120Dallas, TX9.709111973
121Fort Wayne, IN9.5111510371
122Toledo, OH9.501269658
123Houston, TX9.397713385
124Oklahoma City, OK8.9710312531
125Milwaukee, WI8.901429014
126Fort Worth, TX8.619913232
127Detroit, MI8.431477587
128Corpus Christi, TX8.327814789
129Kansas City, MO8.2813310842
130Boise City, ID8.1513111063
131Lexington, KY7.9111711786
132San Antonio, TX7.9110014247
133Columbus, OH7.851449233
134Memphis, TN7.84102134100
135Tulsa, OK7.6211213716
136Spokane, WA7.5614010162
137Albuquerque, NM7.52113126101
138Reno, NV7.4213610988
139Louisville, KY7.31135111131
140El Paso, TX6.75114136132
141Lubbock, TX6.1811014895
142Chicago, IL6.031499880
143Lincoln, NE5.7314312056
144Omaha, NE5.7113912198
145Laredo, TX4.93128149137
146Colorado Springs, CO4.8414611893
147Wichita, KS4.49137141106
148Amarillo, TX4.36132150103
149Sioux Falls, SD3.3914813564
150Anchorage, AK2.3815014434
Infographic showing metrics for best cities for locavores, such as most farm-to-table restaurants per 100K residents, rank in LawnStarter's "best cities for urban gardening" study, and more

Highlights and Lowlights

Best of Both Worlds 

While many of America’s largest cities find themselves ranked middle- to low-tier, satellite cities control most of the top spots on our list. Suburbs like Vancouver, Washington — north of Portland — and Yonkers, New York — just outside the Big Apple — are ideal locations between urban amenities, such as bakeries and vegan restaurants, while a short drive from local farms.

Grown in California

The Golden State dominates our rankings, claiming 10 of the top 20 cities. The reasons are obvious: California is an agricultural powerhouse. One-third of all vegetables and two-thirds of all U.S. fruits and nuts come from this single state. It’s certainly easier to eat local when much of the nation’s food supply is just down the road.

Low and Dry in Texas

Three of the 10 lowest-ranked cities are in arid West Texas, where local produce and other locavore amenities are scarce. Amarillo, for example, is at the bottom of our access category, with one butcher shop and craft brewery per 100,000 residents. On the flip side, Grand Prairie, at No. 29, illustrates the Farm to Suburbs point, as it’s between Dallas and Fort Worth. 

Ask The Experts

  • How can locavores vet the quality of the local food they buy?
  • What are the best ways to find quality local producers?
  • Locally produced food isn’t necessarily cheaper than food sold at grocery stores. How can budget-conscious locavores buy locally without breaking the bank?
  • What are the most common misconceptions about locavorism?
  • How does edible gardening factor into the locavore equation? Has the pandemic increased at-home gardening and garden-to-table dining?

 

Let’s take a look at their answers…

Michael Stahr
CSA, CVT – Manager
Mariel Borgman
Community Food Systems Educator
Mary Hendrickson, PhD
Associate Professor, College of Agricultural Science, Food & Natural Resources
Roslynn G.H. Brain McCann
Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist
Dr. Becca B.R. Jablonski
Assistant Professor and Food Systems Extension Economist
Cristina Connolly
Assistant Professor, Agricultural & Resource Economics, College of Agriculture, health and Natural Economics
Michael Stahr
CSA, CVT – Manager
Iowa State University Seed Laboratory

How can locavores vet the quality of the local food they buy?

Largely by using social media and by word of mouth.  There are farmers markets held during warmer months in Ames and in Boone, Iowa.  In Des Moines, they’re held year-round.  The farmers markets serve as a source of information as well as locally grown items.

What are the best ways to find quality local producers?

Farmer Markets and possibly the local co-op store.  

Locally produced food isn’t necessarily cheaper than food sold at grocery stores. How can budget-conscious locavores buy locally without breaking the bank?

Consumers must be very conscious of what food costs at local grocery stores and then how much more they are willing to pay for buying directly from the producer or a local small business.  Again, I believe social media (such as the Boone page on Facebook) plays a role.

What are the most common misconceptions about locavorism?

It’s a myth that these folks are always “back to nature” types.  It might be just as much wanting fresher items, items with fewer chemicals. They may also simply want to support local producers.

How does edible gardening factor into the locavore equation? Has the pandemic increased at-home gardening and garden-to-table dining?

There is much gardening in the country, in small towns, even in the cities.  While farmers markets are generally well-attended, I am positive that folks producing for themselves has increased significantly since the pandemic began.  

Mariel Borgman
Community Food Systems Educator
Michigan State University

How can locavores vet the quality of the local food they buy?

Quality is a very subjective measure that can vary from person to person. There are industry standards in agriculture such as Grade A vs. Grade B or “seconds.” This often has more to do with the size and physical appearance of the product (especially for produce) than it does with flavor or edibility.

Consumers may also have values that they equate with quality that have to do with how the product was grown or raised—meaning the farm practices and values. One of the best ways to “vet” quality—or at least gauge whether the product you’re interested in is in line with what you’re expecting—is to actually speak with the grower themselves, or an employee that is familiar with the farm’s products. This is possible when buying directly from a farm or buying from a retail establishment or restaurant that source-identifies their local products.  

What are the best ways to find quality local producers?

Visit local farmers markets, browse the vendors, and strike up conversations with them. Also, there are databases of local farms such as MarketMaker or Local Harvest—although farm profiles are not always up to date on these. In Michigan, we have Taste the Local Difference which tends to be more up-to-date.

Locally produced food isn’t necessarily cheaper than food sold at grocery stores. How can budget-conscious locavores buy locally without breaking the bank?

Understanding the seasonality of your local agriculture can help. When items are in peak season and plentiful, prices tend to be lower. See if the produce can be stored or preserved (frozen, canned, etc.). Proteins tend to be more expensive, so going for smaller portions and rounding out meals with filing fruits and vegetables can make for budget-friendly meals.

How does edible gardening factor into the locavore equation? Has the pandemic increased at-home gardening and garden-to-table dining?

Growing your own food is about as local as you can get and a lot of people find it very rewarding. There has been increased interest in home food production during the pandemic—for example, many of the mail-order poultry hatcheries sold out of baby chicks as more people took up backyard chicken raising in the spring. Fears over food supply shortages combined with more time spent at home for non-essential workers increased participation in home food production.

Mary Hendrickson, PhD
Associate Professor, College of Agricultural Science, Food & Natural Resources
University of Missouri

How can locavores vet the quality of the local food they buy?

Consumers need to educate themselves (from reputable sources like University Extension services, non-profits with a long history of solid reporting) about what represents quality.  Is it taste, texture, nutritional quality? 

Much of what we’ve been trained to identify as quality is really aesthetic choices like color and lack of blemishes, which may not indicate good taste or nutrition.  Produce in particular needs to be handled properly by both farmers and consumers or it doesn’t matter what the quality was coming out of the ground. Farmers have recently stepped up their game in managing quality. It’s particularly important for produce growers to correctly take the field heat out of their products to make sure they will store well for consumers.

For meat, consumers have to accept that locally produced meats are going to be frozen and that freezing doesn’t degrade quality – and they have to learn steps to take to cook with frozen products.  Organic meat is very difficult for farmers because of the lack of organic grains and local organically certified processing plants.  But consumers need to think about what constitutes their main reason for buying locally produced meats – health (measures of calories and fat may vary in meat from ruminants that graze compared with meat from animals that don’t graze), environment (grazing can be beneficial to managing marginal lands, pigs and chickens can be useful for cleaning up food waste left in the fields, (not waste from the household!)

Above all those consumers who have the time and money should cultivate relationships with producers and cooperatives)to build relationships of trust.  It can take time for locovores to develop the skills and routines to make these kinds of food their priority.

What are the best ways to find quality local producers?

Employing the same strategies that low-income consumers always do – working with friends and family to buy in bulk; taking advantage of numerous double-up bucks programs (if using SNAP), buying in peak season and preserving.  

What are the most common misconceptions about locavorism?

We should be talking about sustainable food systems in general, and we should be taking a regional approach to food systems.  That may mean buying things from neighboring states – but the basic premise remains the same:

  1. Ecological production of produce, dairy, and meat
  2. Making sure farmers, food businesses and workers are making a living wage
  3. Authentic personal relationships of trust that support all people in the community having access to this kind of food. 

Sustainable food systems will not happen through the market alone – it will take a mix of market-based exchanges, self-provisioning, informal exchanges and sharing, policies, cooperatives. 

How does edible gardening factor into the locavore equation? Has the pandemic increased at-home gardening and garden-to-table dining?

Self-provisioning accomplishes huge things!  It helps connect people to nature, inspires awe, wonder, and satisfaction, and can help folks understand how much effort skilled food production takes – and how rewarding it can be.

 

Roslynn G.H. Brain McCann
Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist
Utah State University Moab

How can locavores vet the quality of the local food they buy?

The best way to ensure high quality food purchased locally is to get to know the farmers growing that food. A farm visit can be highly insightful and also meaningful to the farmer to see heightened interest in their hard work. Many areas house local food co-ops, and many of these (i.e. the Bozeman Co-Op in Bozeman, MT and Moonflower Co-Op in Moab, UT), feature the local farmers from which they source.

What are the best ways to find quality local producers?

At your local farmers market and food co-op. Many small towns also house local food social media groups. In Moab, UT, we have a local food co-op, a Moab Gardeners and Farmers Facebook Page, and a Moab Foodies Google Email group.

Locally produced food isn’t necessarily cheaper than food sold at grocery stores. How can budget-conscious locavores buy locally without breaking the bank?

One way is to shop when local food co-ops have sales. During the last hour of the day, our local food co-op gives away produce that is turning. For the rest of the day, this is housed in a discount produce bin. A growing number of farmers markets and community supported agriculture programs also are accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

What are the most common misconceptions about locavorism?

Buying local doesn’t equate to buying vegetarian or vegan.

Also, the perception that local food costs more is tied to a complicated and broken system in the United States where industrial agriculture operations producing nutrient-poor, pesticide dependent, corporate-owned crops such as mass-produced corn, soy, and wheat, are subsidized. Hence, products featuring these in our grocery stores are cheaper. 

How does edible gardening factor into the locavore equation?

Every ounce of food grown in community gardens, backyards, porches, and living rooms decreases our dependency on imported foods. This reduces the carbon footprint associated with buying food that has traveled far distances (food miles).

Has the pandemic increased at-home gardening and garden-to-table dining?

The pandemic, as in past times of hardship, has resulted in the major growth of home gardening and local eating. Many community-supported agriculture growers saw their share signups double and triple when the pandemic hit. This is a silver lining to the pandemic – interest and support for local foods have grown exponentially.

Dr. Becca B.R. Jablonski
Assistant Professor and Food Systems Extension Economist
Colorado State University College of Agricultural Sciences

How can locavores vet the quality of the local food they buy?

In conventional supply chains, quality can be based on size, color, taste, etc. In local food systems, consumers may value attributes of products that don’t fit within these traditional “quality” measures.

There is a growing movement to reduce food waste, and some local food markets cater towards providing “ugly produce” that would otherwise be discarded. Other consumers may value environmental attributes over other traditional quality measures. 

What are the best ways to find quality local producers?

Many Cooperative Extension offices offer guides to local farms, and locations of farmers markets.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also created national directories.

Locally produced food isn’t necessarily cheaper than food sold at grocery stores. How can budget-conscious locavores buy locally without breaking the bank?

In-season local produce can be very cost-competitive with grocery store prices. In addition, many producers sell “seconds” at farmers markets – items that may have small blemishes but are otherwise perfectly fine.

Joining a farm that has a community-supported agriculture model (where you pay for a share of the weekly harvest at the beginning of the season) can also be a very economic way to buy local and support local farms and ranches.

I also recommend that budget-conscious locavores interested in purchasing meat consider less popular cuts. For example, a Denver steak.

What are the most common misconceptions about locavorism?

Perhaps that local food is always more expensive. Yes, there are items that can be more expensive, particularly as farms and ranches that sell through local food markets tend to be smaller in scale and have higher costs of production, but there are some items that are cheaper.  

How does edible gardening factor into the locavore equation? Has the pandemic increased at-home gardening and garden-to-table dining?

Yes, the pandemic has increased at-home gardening. In Colorado, for example, our Extension offices launched a program called Grow & Give, which promotes modern-day Victory Gardens.  People who garden are more likely to purchase from local farms and ranches.

Cristina Connolly
Assistant Professor, Agricultural & Resource Economics, College of Agriculture, health and Natural Economics
University of Connecticut

How can locavores vet the quality of the local food they buy?

The concept of quality really depends on the individual.  Some attributes can be assessed visually at the farmers market or farm stand, and the same with taste characteristics. 

What a lot of consumers care about though are the attributes that are not easily observed, like production processes, worker treatment, and animal welfare. Educate yourself on the impact of different production techniques and speak to farmers to find those whose values align with yours.  Word of mouth and social media are other great ways to identify high-quality options.

What are the best ways to find quality local producers?

Again, word of mouth and social media are the best ways to find producers in your area. There are national databases like Local Harvest that are a good place to start, but details aren’t necessarily comprehensive or up to date.  Your state probably has a locally grown website for its state branded program that may include producer information.  The Connecticut  Dept of Ag has a list of farmers markets, farm stands, and CSAs in the state.  

Locally produced food isn’t necessarily cheaper than food sold at grocery stores. How can budget-conscious locavores buy locally without breaking the bank?

The best way to save money is to make sure you’re purchasing products in season.  I’d recommend getting acquainted with your state’s crop availability calendar, and purchase locally when those products are in abundance.  Joining a CSA can be a good way to get local products more affordably, especially for meat.  If you are concerned about eating all the produce you receive, a lot of CSAs offer half-shares, or you might consider splitting a share with a friend. 

 What are the most common misconceptions about locavorism?

The biggest misconception is that eating local is too hard, and only possible for wealthy consumers.  It requires an up-front investment of time to learn about what is grown seasonally and who the area producers are.  Once you get tuned into that local food network, you will find there are lots of available information sources and collaborative efforts to make this food more accessible.

How does edible gardening factor into the locavore equation? Has the pandemic increased at-home gardening and garden-to-table dining?

The pandemic has led to more people gardening, and an increased interest in local food.  The question is if that trend will remain after the pandemic ends and we start to get back to normal.  Edible landscapes are gaining in popularity from a land conservation perspective, and there are lots of resources for those interested in starting a garden.  You can also explore whether there is a community garden program in your area that you would like to participate in.

 

Links:

Local Harvest

CT Dept of Ag Find a Farmer 

CT NOFA Find a Farm 

Methodology

We ranked the 150 most populated U.S. cities in descending order based on their individual score totals. The city that scored the highest ranked No. 1, or “best.”

MetricWeightingMin. ValueMax. Value
Ranking in LawnStarter's “Best Cities for Urban Gardening” report12.51150
CSAs (Community-Supported Agriculture) per 100,000 Residents12.5020.52
Agricultural Workers per 100,000 residents6.2504694.46
Commitment Category Total31.25
Seafood Markets per 100,000 Residents6.25075.61
Butcher Shops per 100,000 Residents6.250.3856.00
Bakeries per 100,000 Residents6.250.91228.17
Farm-to-Table Restaurants per 100,000 Residents6.25089.96
Vegan/Vegetarian Farm-to-Table Restaurants per 100,000 Residents6.25012.50
Craft Breweries per 100,000 Residents6.250.5076.98
Wineries per 100,000 Residents6.250106.84
Local Food Hubs Within 100 Miles6.25031
On-Farm Markets Within 50 Miles6.25039
Access Category Total56.25
Sales of Farm-to-Consumer Food per Capita6.250.01127.68
Sales of Farm-to-Store Food per Capita6.250546.23
Support Category Total12.5
Overall Total100

Sources: LawnStarter, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Yelp

Why This Study Matters

Eating and drinking (milk, wine, beer) locally saves jobs. Local restaurants, craft breweries, and local wineries have been hit hard by the pandemic. Restaurants and bars were projected to lose $240 billion in 2020, and the picture for the early part of 2021 isn’t any rosier. 

One way to satisfy your stomach and your conscience is to become a locavore, savoring the flavors mainly of foods grown and produced nearby.

Not only can eating locally produced food help struggling businesses, but it also helps the environment. The average bunch of vegetables travels 1,800 miles from farm to plate, whereas locavores typically eat food produced within 100 miles. 

That’s a savings for consumers, distributors and the planet.

So dig into gardening, pick your own strawberries or apples at a nearby farm, get to know your neighborhood butcher. Eating locally just makes sense.

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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