How will local farmers really chip in?

Potato farmers ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate Frito-Lay's new campaign to use local potatoes -- May 12, 2009

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: There's been a movement the past couple of years of consumers seeking out foods that are grown close to where they live. But don't take our word for it: even the giant Frito-Lay company is trying to cash in on the trend. A new marketing campaign unveiled today pitches Lay's potato chips as locally made. Joel Rose reports not everyone's buying it.


JOEL ROSE: So I've got a bag of Lay's potato chips here at my office in Philadelphia. And to find out where they came from, I'm going to find the product code on the bag, type it into the new chip tracker on the Lay's Web site.

OK, and it looks like my bag of chips was made in Kirkwood, in upstate New York.

DAVE Skena: Consumers have become increasingly interested in where their food comes from, where it's grown, where it's made.

That's not a spokesman for the local foods movement. It's Dave Skena, vice president of potato-chip marketing for Frito-Lay.

Skena: We weren't sure if were getting our story out enough about all the farms across the country, the 80 farms in 27 states where we do grow potatoes for Lay's potato chips.

To correct that, Lay's has commissioned a handful of TV ads starring real farmers, like brothers Bryan and Gary Walther.

Walther BROTHERS: Next time you buy a bag of Lay's in Michigan -- Michigan! -- think of us.

JESSICA Prentice: On the one hand, it's a sign of progress. But on the other hand, it completely misses the point.

Jessica Prentice is a local foods activist and author in Northern California. She says the movement toward eating local is about more than just geography.

Prentice: It's also about how: how is it raised? How are the soils treated? And it's also about who: who raised it? And who am I supporting with this dollar that I'm spending?

Despite the new ad campaign, Prentice says most of Lay's potatoes are grown on big industrial farms, exactly what local eaters are trying to avoid.

I'm Joel Rose, for Marketplace.

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