Scaling Up Local Food
Scaling Up Local Sustainable Foods
The State of Local Foods
Farmers markets, CSA farms, and other opportunities for consumers to buy fresh, local foods are popping up around every corner. Yet a 2010 USDA report found that direct-to-consumer sales accounted for only 0.4 percent of total agricultural sales in 2007, up from 0.3 percent in 1997.(1)
Recent research indicates that while the concept of '"local' has somewhat different meanings to different consumers, it appears to be one promising way for farmers to tap markets that may be more likely to reward them for stewardship and proximity. According to Catherine Woteki, USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, local food systems are a small but rapidly growing segment of U.S. agriculture, representing approximately $4.8 billion in sales in 2008 (Low and Vogel, 2011). The number of farmers markets nearly doubled in 10 years to 5,247 in 2009 and the number of farm-to-school programs grew fivefold in 5 years to 2,095 in 2009 (Martinez et al., 2010). Understanding where and how regional food systems are a good fit and how they complement or compete with national and global supply chains is one area of active research. (2)
A growing group of people are interested in getting more local foods into the hands of more eaters -- and providing additional marketing channels for farmers to produce sustainable, local foods.
“Scaling Up” local food refers to the process of building the system necessary to make local food available to a wider segment of the population than currently possible. Key challenges to scaling up include ensuring a sufficient, high quality level of agricultural production, providing efficient storage and transportation, and developing marketing and sales relationships with wholesale buyers, distributors, and brokers.
NCR-SARE Explores Local Food Systems
To explore new ideas for creating local food systems on a grander scale, the NCR-SARE’s Professional Development Program (PDP) hosted a 2-day conference in Madison, WI, September 28-29, 2010.
The overall goal for the training was development of a regional network of educators, working on scaling up local, sustainable food systems, who could actively share information and as a result be more effective in efforts to scale up “good food” systems in their states. About 80 educators from the 12 North Central Region states attended in state teams. Twenty additional participants from other regions joined the training.
NCR-SARE PDP leaders asked state team members to make a one-year commitment to work on “scaling up,” starting with participation in a preconference webinar. The webinar, with 75 attendees, helped define “scaling up” and “sustainable foods” as well as introduced “Tiers of the Food System,” a conceptual framework for understanding different production and consumption relationships across food systems.(3)
Following the webinar, the conference in Madison provided participants with workshops and time to reflect, connect with educators in other states, and start on plans to scale up local foods in their own areas.
Michael Shuman, of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, offered a taped keynote on day one and joined the group live on day two to share his thought-provoking perspective on community food systems.A diverse panel took the stage on day one to address critical challenges in aggregating, processing, and distributing local foods. Breakout sessions took two tracks. The farm track addressed production issues, such as multi-farm collaboration and post-harvest handling as well as farm economic issues, such as costs, marketing, and tools available. The community track looked at the impact of local food systems on community economics as well as challenges with local food supply chains.
Day two of the conference took participants to a variety of tour stops, including an entrepreneurial cheese factory, a grocery store incorporating local foods, a local foods processor/distributor, a University of Wisconsin commissary serving local foods, and a food cooperative.The afternoon of day two allowed state teams to interact and plan, using the Healthy Food Systems Toolkit framework to discuss steps that teams and the regional effort can take to move ahead in the next year and the next five years.
The conference planning committee has continued their work with a thorough training evaluation and planning for additional webinars. Each state team is working on scaling up local sustainable food systems from their own unique perspective and with their own resources.
(1) Martinez, Steve; Hand, Michael; DaPra, Michelle; Pollack, Susan; Ralston, Katherine; Smith, Travis; Vogel, Stephen; Clark, Shellye; Lohr, Luanne; Low, Sarah and Newman, Constance. "Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues. Economic Research Report No. (ERR-97)". 87 pp, May 2010.
(2) Woteki, Catherine. "Sustainable Agricultural Systems Science White Paper". July 2012.
(2) Tiers of a Food System, click here to download PDF.
Resources for Scaling Up Local Sustainable Foods
This list of resources was assembled from the recommendations of several educators, but it is likely not complete, and new resources are sure to be developed. If you would like to add a resource, please send the information to Diane Mayerfeld.
This resource list was developed with support from the SARE program, which is funded by USDA-NIFA. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed within this resource list do not necessarily reflect the view of the SARE program or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.