August 4, 2011
On August 4, Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released the report “Market Forces: Creating Jobs through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems” by UCS agricultural economist Jeffrey O’Hara, an analysis of the growth, economic benefits, and challenges to expansion of local and regional food systems. O’Hara also makes policy recommendations to help local and regional food systems overcome such challenges and increase access to new markets for both producers and consumers.
The report defines the key features of local and regional food systems, including the prevalence of direct marketing through farmers markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs), smaller and more diversified producers, organic production methods and certification, entrepreneurial activities (such as value-added products), and increased interactions between producers and consumers.
Proponents of local and regional food systems will find the data cited in the report especially helpful. The report draws on over 75 articles about different aspects of local and regional food systems, documenting the existing research and suggesting areas for further investigation. It rigorously analyzes the methods used to estimate economic impacts of local and regional food systems and provides sound information to support local food policies.
In particular, O’Hara urges Congress to:
- Support the development of local food markets, which can stabilize community-supported markets and create permanent jobs. For example, the report found that the Farmers Market Promotion Program could create as many as 13,500 jobs nationally over a five-year period, if reauthorized, by providing modest funding for 100 to 500 farmers markets per year.
- Level the playing field for farmers in rural regions by investing in infrastructure to help meat, dairy and other farmers produce and market their products to consumers more efficiently. These investments could foster competition in food markets, increase product choice for consumers, and generate jobs in the community.
- Allow low-income residents to redeem food nutrition subsidies at local food markets to help them afford fresh fruits and vegetables. Currently, not all markets are able to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
NSAC has long been a supporter of local and regional food systems for their role in improving producer income, rural economies and the rural environment, and public health nutrition through improved food access.
Most recently, NSAC submitted comments on a proposed Farm Credit System rule that could bring millions of dollars in new investment to local and regional food producers; stood up in support of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative; and publicized opportunities for Value-Added Producer Grants, Farmers Market Promotion Program grants, Rural Business Opportunity Grants, Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program grants, and Rural Community Development Initiative funds.
Download the full UCS report, or read the executive summary. Check back on the NSAC blog for updates about how the Senate appropriations process this fall will affect critical funding for local and regional food system programs.