One of the fruits of growing locally is fuel savings, said Tony Freytag, chief executive officer of Cashmere, Wash.-based tree fruit grower-shipper Crunch Pak.

“Our facility is located in the heart of apple-growing region in Washington, and Washington grows over 70% of the U.S. apple supply, so we are very happy being located where we are,” he said.

“Then again, that isn’t an accident — it was planned that way.”

How important is the buy-local movement in generating a sustainable industry?

There are two answers to that question, said Ron Cotterman, vice president of sustainability for Elmwood Park, N.J.-based Sealed Air Corp.

“First, there is strong evidence that the local movement has benefits in the community that include support for the local labor market, products that are delivered fresh and a reduction in transportation cost.

“Therefore, a segment of the market will always depend on local production and there are consumers who will value the benefits that buying local provides,” Cotterman said.

The second answer is a bit more complicated, Cotterman said.

“We still have significant societal challenges in getting food to many who are in need,” he said.

There isn’t enough local production to meet everyone’s needs, he said.

That’s where packaging helps enhance global food security “in a very meaningful way,” he said.

Fuel use is important, but there are other issues that can combine to outweigh the locally grown issue as a sustainability matter, said Ed O’Malley, president and chief executive officer of Datepac LLC in Yuma, Ariz.

Those “include all inputs needed to actually plant, grow, harvest, pack and distribute local produce,” O’Malley said.

Sustainability is about evaluating tradeoffs, said Burleson Smith, vice president of environmental affairs and sustainability for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

“When transportation is a small component of the energy involved in production and delivery of produce, more efficient operations that have better growing conditions may in fact be more energy efficient for each unit of produce delivered at retail even if they are coming cross-country,” Smith said.

Locally grown is important in terms of saving fuel, but it’s also a “social” component, said Eric Halverson, executive vice president of technology, Black Gold Farms, Grand Forks N.D.

“Socially, it is important to the consumer to spend money ‘at home’ or at the very least on a product grown with some type of connection,” he said.

Providing a product that is fresh and that the consumer won’t let go to waste also are important, Halverson said.

Buying local, from a sustainability standpoint, is a “mixed bag,” said Joelle Mosso, organic integrity manager at Earthbound Farm, San Juan Bautista, Calif.

“There are so many factors to consider before you can say that buying local is the most overall ecological choice,” said Mosso, who also works on sustainability initiatives for the company.

The distance a product is driven to market can be less important than other sustainability concerns, Mosso said.

“In some instances, when you look at all the measures, local can be less sustainable than choice produced at a greater distance. Again, you have to look at the variables,” Mosso said.