Do local foods boost the rural economy?

When Michelle Obama planted an organic garden on the White House lawn in 2009, she joined a growing number of Americans interested in local foods.  “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” and her initiatives against childhood obesity further highlighted public concerns over the safety and healthfulness of food in the U.S..  But does local food production actually help rural economies to thrive?

“There has not been much research on how this movement to “civic agriculture” (local, sustainable, organic) affects local economies,” explains Steve Deller, professor of agricultural and applied economics. “My past studies show that counties that are more economically dependent upon agriculture have low economic growth or even decline.  But over the past few years, there’s been a resurgence of interest in supporting small- and medium-scale agriculture for rural development.  The last rigorous study of the economic impact of small-scale ‘alternative’ agriculture was done over 20 years ago, and a lot has changed since then.”

Deller is launching a new study to determine whether there’s sufficient demand for local foods to make such farming a driver of rural economic development.  Increasing numbers of institutions, such as schools, hospitals, and even prisons, are looking for sources of locally grown produce, meat and dairy products.  “Local trumps organic at this point, although locally grown organic food is still most popular,” he notes.

For more, see Barbara Forrest’s article on the AAE website.