Springfield, Oregon’s 100-Mile Bakery has its roots in founder Leda Hermecz’s passion for sustainability. In 2011, Hermecz began consulting for restaurants on how to improve their energy efficiency and produce food sustainably while reducing their overall carbon footprint.  She helped eateries transition to using only GMO-free ingredients as well as encourage and reward their customers who commuted by bike. With her training through the Climate Masters at Work program and more than 16 years of experience in the restaurant industry, Hermecz’s commitment to sustainability has been grounded in her practical knowledge of the economic and production realities eateries face on a daily basis.

“I realized how much waste there was in the industry and how much could be solved with a little forethought, “she says.

While her consulting services made a positive impact on the businesses she worked with, she realized she could make an even bigger impact by creating a model food establishment others could follow. And so the 100-Mile Bakery was born. The name says it all: the ingredients the bakery uses come from within 100 miles of the former church in downtown Springfield, Oregon where it is located. Springfield is part of the Eugene metro-area, the second largest city in Oregon, and is situated in the heart of the Willamette Valley, home to 70% of Oregon’s total population and one of the most fertile agricultural zones on the American West Coast.

Flour comes from grains grown on farms just north of town and milled at local facilities like Camas Country Mill, the first stone grist mill of its kind based in Oregon in over 85 years. Eggs and milk come from local farms and dairies, and honey, the sole sweetener, comes from an area beekeeper. Hermecz and her team even use lemons from a mature Meyer Lemon tree in nearby Corvallis.

Some baking staples that aren’t in the kitchen, though, include cinnamon, most of which comes from Sri Lanka or India, and vanilla – an orchid that doesn’t fare well in Oregon’s typically damp climate.

The menu is built around seasonal ingredients featuring savory quiches and sandwiches made from their own wheat or gluten-free loaves as well muffins, pies, strudel and other treats. Even with such a varied menu, costs are lower than many other bakeries thanks to the strong relationships and lasting business partnerships Hermecz has with local farms. She sees these local relationships and the investment in the local business community to be key benefits of the 100-mile approach, even ahead of the environmental benefits.

But the positive impact on the environment is certainly a factor. Hermecz points out: “Agricultural transportation is the largest source of diesel transportation pollution. It is why most of the trucks are on the road.” According to U.S. Department of Transportation data, truck transport accounts for 71% of all agricultural shipping in the US.

The term” food miles” was coined by the British professor Tim Lang to describe the distance a food has to travel from its point of origin to its point of destination. The philosophy of limiting the miles food travels and conserving the energy required for processing, packing, shipping and storage is sometimes referred to as the low-carbon diet and is very much at the heart of the local food movement.

Sometimes affectionately referred to as locavores, proponents of the local food movement focus on supporting small farms and food producers who sell directly to local consumers via farmers markets, cooperatives, and local stores. According to the US Department of Agriculture, in 2012 144,530 farms sold $1.3 billion worth of farm products directly to consumers. The 100-Mile Diet, a book by Canadian authors Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon was a best-seller in 2007 and even inspired a Food Network Canada television series called The 100 Mile Challenge.

Aprovecho, a non-profit sustainable living institute in Oregon, offered a multi-week educational program called Local Food Networks and the 100-Mile Diet that focused on the logistics of eating locally. While their diet included familiar foods like chicken, potatoes, corn, and black beans, it also integrated some overlooked delicacies such as acorns. But when it came to sea salt, most of which comes from France or India, the class was especially resourceful. Using stainless steel pans and a simple wood-fired evaporator, the group harvested and processed sea salt at locations along the Oregon coast. In a few hours, they boiled 25 gallons (almost 95 litres) of seawater, which yielded a half gallon of salt.

Several other restaurants now boast 100-mile menus. The Herbfarm in Woodinville, Washington near Seattle has been listed by Gayot, a respected travel and lifestyle guide, as one the 40 best restaurants in the United States. Each summer they feature a nine course 100-mile meal that features foods, wines, and beverages from the Pacific Northwest, with an emphasis on fresh salmon and seafood.

Café 1505 in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin features a weekly 100-mile menu that emphasizes seasonal and regional meats, vegetables, and, of course, cheese. Great Performances, a New York City catering company, hosts a series of 100-mile farm-to-table dinners that connect farms with urban diners at cafes, museums and other event venues.

In 2014 Sarah Swan and Jeremy Burn opened 100 Mile Table in Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Their café and catering menus feature locally-sourced soups, sandwiches, and entrees. While acknowledging the importance of reducing food miles, Swan and Burn echo Hermecz’s belief that local sourcing is about building and maintaining relationships with farmers and food producers to strengthen communities and local economies.

New South Wales’ subtropical climate means the 100 Mile Table can source lemons, limes, ginger, chili and pumpkins from within just 10 miles of their home base in Byron Bay.

There has been debate about the true impact of food miles, with critics often pointing out that shipping only accounts for 11% of overall food emissions while production accounts for 83%. But proponents of the 100-mile approach also emphasize that eating foods that use seasonal, local ingredients reduces production overhead. This includes reduced demand for refrigeration and freezing as well as packaging and dry storage. Eating in season and locally also improves overall food quality by cutting down the time from harvest to table and using foods when they are at the peak.

As more Americans embrace the importance of eating locally, the demand for eateries like the 100-Mile Bakery and the 100 Mile Table will increase, and Hermecz is preparing for such a future. “I’d like to create an educational facility for food professionals to come and study food sustainability,” she says. Such a facility could guide others to create locally-sourced eateries in their own communities and create a national and international network.

“I do believe you could have a 100-mile bakery in Arizona,” Hermecz explains, pointing out that establishing an infrastructure of small farms managed by people committed to maintaining the vitality of the soil can be done anywhere, and that locally-sourced eating establishments will sprout up as a result.