Local food conference is hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
The local food movement is one of the great trends to hit the country
over the past decade as more people head for farmers markets, join
community-supported agriculture groups (CSA) and cooperatives, shop at
farm stands and U-picks, sponsor farm-to-school programs and demand
local food in their neighborhood grocery stores, school and
isn't widely known is that the federal government, some big
corporations and a variety of non-profit and small business
organizations are stepping up to encourage the growth and viability of a
local food system in order to give people of all income levels access to local food that is healthier, safer and fresher.
from these sectors shared "successful models, resources, strategies
and opportunities for supporting, cultivating and growing
local/regional food systems in the Midwest" with about 150 people at
the Local/Regional Food System Conference hosted by the Federal Reserve
Bank of Chicago recently.
money we spend on food is a powerful investment tool," said Deputy
Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan in her keynote address.
USDA, considered by many local food advocates to be a promoter of
large, corporate agriculture, is devoting more monies for small
local/regional farmers, especially since the Obama administration took
office in 2009.
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For example, Merrigan spearheaded Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food
in May 2009, which highlights the critical connection between farmers
and consumers and supports local and regional food systems that
increase economic opportunity in rural America.
The VAPG, begun in 2000, has seen increased funding with each successive farm bill.
funding will promote small business expansion and entrepreneurship
opportunities by providing local businesses with access capital,
technical assistance and new markets for products and services," said
is a "new renaissance of interest" in knowing where food comes from,
said Merrigan who added that one of the most influential people
promoting local/regional food has been First Lady Michelle Obama, her
White House garden and her dedication to eliminate childhood obesity.
direct-to-consumer sales account for about one percent of total
agricultural sales, farmers markets have flourished and seen a steady increase
since 1994. In 2011, the USDA counted 7,173 farmers markets, a 17
percent jump from 2010. The Farmers Market Coalition says that as
recently as 2005, farmers market direct to consumer sales were already
exceeding $1 billion nationwide.
chefs use local food to distinguish their restaurant from others.
Consequently, they want fresh, high-quality ingredients that are ripe
and ready to eat rather than grown and packaged for a 1500-mile journey,
as most food products are today.
the USDA's own research, local food sales made through direct
marketing sales like farmers markets, CSAs, and farm stands plus via
supermarkets, restaurants and institutional buyers were close to $5 billion
. Fruit, vegetable and nut growers selling into local and regional markets employ 13 fulltime
workers per $1 million in revenue earned.
this growing demand for local food presents many opportunities for
economic development and job growth because it requires the rebuilding a
local food system that involves all the steps from "farm to fork"
including production, processing, packaging, marketing, sales and
World War II, large corporations began to gain almost total control
over our nation's food system. This was intensified when cheap food
policies instituted in the 1970s gave rise to monoculture
specialization, high tech and expensive machinery, complex
transportation and communications networks all with the promise of low
prices, year-round accessibility of products and convenience. These
policies also led to the demise of many family farms that were told to
"get big or get out."
Then, something changed over the past
decade as more and more people became concerned about where and how
their food was grown and whether it was safe, healthy and tasty. They
also wanted to reinvest their dollars in the local economy, be more
sustainable and protect the environment.
Besides the federal government's efforts to
support a local food system, several corporations are also helping to
make this transition.
a marketing and distribution company, started a local sourcing program
with family farms in 2004 because it wanted to make their high quality
products accessible to more people, said Craig Watson, vice president
of sustainable agriculture.
Sysco, also interested in environmental protection
, uses hybrid diesel delivery trucks and biodegradable takeout containers, and it advocates low-impact farming methods.
help make food accessible to people of lower incomes, it makes
charitable contributions to fight hunger in the United States primarily
through Share Our Strength
, the leading national not-for-profit organization devoted to eliminating childhood hunger.
2. Likewise, Supervalu
a specialist in produce/grocery retail and supply chain services, has
distribution centers in 48 states that can assist local growers in
getting their products to market. In fact, the goal of SuperValu is to
raise the awareness of what is locally grown and to increase the
commitment of customers to purchase more produce overall, said Tim
Eberle, director of sales.
3. Whole Foods
currently has 300 retail stores throughout North America and the
UK--with 20 more opening next year. Its purchasing operations have three
tiers: global, regional and local. It is known for its high quality
products and the world's largest natural and organic grocer. Only
recently has it trumpeted local foods.
Whole Foods Midwest distribution hub in Muncie, IN, works with local farmers and seeks to add more. Its Local Producer LoanProgram
provides up to $10 million in low-interest loans to small, local
producers to make it easier for them to grow their businesses and bring
more local products to market. Loans range from $1,000 to $100,000 and
can be used for purchasing more animals, investing in new equipment or
converting to organic production. Whole Foods also minimizes the
fees, interest rates and paperwork that can often get in the way of a
small local farm or business taking the next step to expand its
4. General Electric (GE)
is committed to building self-reliant communities throughout the world
through technology, which can have some impact on rebuilding the local
food system, too.
"Arable land, energy and water are all critical factors in the production of food," said Dan Walter, global general manager of GE's Food and Beverage Solutions
. In the United States energy and water have been taken for granted, but food, energy and water are all tied together."
ultimate goal is to make food production profitable, sustainable and
economically viable, he said, but there are certain global challenges
that make this difficult.
Currently, 925 million people suffer from hunger and the UN projects the world's population will reach 9.3 billion by 2050.
A growing middle class worldwide
will expect clean water, a higher protein diet and better power, so
the demand for food will jump by 70 to 100 percent by 2050, according
to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Production in
developing countries will need to double.
global financial and environmental (droughts, earthquakes, hurricanes,
floods, oil spills) shocks are impacting agriculture as well as
households and livelihoods.
As energy costs increase and water, oil, natural gas and other resources decrease, alternatives are needed for agriculture.
is looking for alternative water sources through the conversion of
saline and brackish water and water reduction strategies like drip
irrigation and no-till farming. It is exploring energy alternatives
like solar, wind and biogas engines as well as vertical farms in cities,
GPS-driven machinery and the reduction of food spoilage, which amounts
to 20 to 25 percent of all produced.
like to think that technology will win out to meet the challenges we
face," said Walter, "but market forces will change before technology
catches up to the changes."
Non-Profit and Small Business Sectors
non-profit organizations, planning commissions and worker-owned
cooperatives are also involved in the transition to a local food system.
1. Feeding America
, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity, maintains a local and national network that secures
and distributes food from corporate manufacturers, retailers, farmers
and government sources to the 37 million Americans who lack access to
food, including 14 million children and 3 million seniors.
America has over 200 food banks and 61,000 agencies and it annually
ships 70 percent or 330 million pounds of local produce to needy people,
said James Borys, director of the Fresh Produce Program in Chicago.
pantries allow food banks to engage a much larger circle of groups in
supplying food to the needy, which increases the number of people
served and extends service into regions that the food banks haven't
SNAP Outreach Program provides access to food for more than 1 million
people each year and aims to increase participation among eligible
individuals to 70 percent in 2012.
Southwest Wisconsin, which is comprised of only five rural counties,
is working on a regional plan to figure out how local foods can impact a
tri-state area (Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa) where 35 million people
live and spend $150 billion on food. This could result in tremendous
job creation and an economic boom to the area.
commission is developing a database on what area farmers can grow, who
is processing and buying food, what people are paying for food, what
kinds of food are needed and in what forms and what distribution
networks are available.
3. Organic Valley
is known for its dairy products but the biggest farmers cooperative
in the country with more than 1,687 farmer-owners in 33 states and four
Canadian provinces started out in 1988 with produce.
produce comes from California because big producers ship in the volume
that large grocery stores need. Those stores are not able to buy from
individual, small, family farms, however, so Organic Valley has its
farmers "pool" their crops and achieve the volume those stores require
in markets they could not access.
benefits to this cooperative arrangement include helping farmers,
especially young farmers, who don't have the money to invest in the
infrastructure it takes to market and deliver crops or the time to
self-market or the desire to self-promote (like its many Amish
4. Parrfection Produce
is a four-year-old operation started by a 21-year-old University of Wisconsin-Platteville agriculture business major , David Parr. His business got a kick-start when he was selected as the winner of the Pioneer Academic Center for CommunityEngagement
's business plan competition for his business, Parrfection Produce. He received $1,000.
He works with 90 produce growers who each farm five acres on average by providing order
buying and management services; warehousing; and distribution to small
family restaurants, small chain restaurants and grocery stores.
Recently, he partnered with the Monroe school district to try to
increase the amount of local produce being used in the school lunch
5. Green CityGrowers Cooperative
is one of three operating enterprises of Evergreen Cooperatives that
was designed to create sustainable jobs in inner-city Cleveland where 40
percent of the population lives below the poverty level and 16 percent
Workers in the Green City Growers
230,000-square-foot greenhouse grow year-round hydroponic produce in a
building that also has a packing facility, offices and advanced energy
facilities all on 3.25 acres.
are pioneering innovative models of job creation, wealth building and sustainability based on the Cleveland Model
which involves a partnership between the residents of six of the
city's neighborhoods and some of Cleveland's most important "anchor
institutions" including the Cleveland Foundation, the City of Cleveland,
Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, University
Hospitals. Together, it was found, they had $3 billion worth of buying
power with very little of it coming from local sources.
6. One of the big problems in rebuilding the local food system is connecting farmers with customers. Local Roots
began filling that gap in northeastern Ohio by forming the Wooster
Local Foods Cooperative. It currently has 700 members with 100
producers supplying produce, meat, dairy, eggs and bakery items--and
receiving 90 percent of their sales.
After a year of planning, a steering
committee of 12 opened a renovated an empty building in January 2010
for a six-day-a-week year-round market and cafe that features seasonal
local dishes. The building was financed by funds from members, local
businesses, a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Ohio Department of
Agriculture and the sweat equity of volunteers.
The building has a classroom, demo kitchen
to teach people how to cook, and in December 2012 it will open a
small, commercially licensed kitchen that allows producers to process
and preserve products for sale at the market. It will soon offer the
Sprouts Program that helps entrepreneurs get started.
Collaboration and cooperation are the hallmarks of making this emerging local food system work, said Secretary Merrigan.
And, the Midwest, once known as the Rust Belt of America, is leading the way!