Economics of Local Food: Strategies and Impact

Author: Lauren Gwin, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University

Publish Date: Spring 2015

On February 27, the day before the OSU Small Farms Conference, the Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems offered an afternoon workshop, “The Economics of Local Food: Strategies and Impact,” featuring two nationally-known speakers.

The workshop was integrated with a statewide gathering of community food system organizations and was designed to provide leaders of those organizations with research-based information, tools, and training they can use in their own work. The workshop was supported by the Chambers-Eisgruber Fund for Sustainable Agricultural Production and Marketing.

First, Diana Abellera of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, based in California, described what CAFF has learned after many years’ experience in local food distribution. Multiple attempts at cracking the distribution code without achieving economic sustainability have led CAFF to its current “value chain facilitation” approach. Abellera described what this means and why it works.

Next, Becca Jablonski, a researcher at Colorado State University, described best practices for accurately estimating the economic impacts of local food systems, offering examples from her own research. She explained the importance of measuring net rather than gross impacts; all policies/initiatives involve trade offs that should be considered in these assessments. Jablonski most recently worked with USDA’s

Agricultural Marketing Service to design a series of toolkits for such impact studies, including guidance for communities and universities to do studies together.

The Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems is partnering with OSU Applied Economics faculty Mallory Rahe and Larry Lev to launch a study of the economic impact of local food in Oregon, using the IMPLAN-based methods Jablonski described. We will collaborate with local organizations to help collect the significant amount of primary data required. Workshop presentation slides are now posted on the Center home page. 

Other useful resources:

• CAFF’s report, Making the Invisible Visible: Looking Back at 15 Years of Local Food Systems Distribution Solutions

• Schmitt, Jablonski, and Kay. 2014. A Practitioner’s Guide to Conducting an Economic Impact Assessment of Regional Food Hubs using IMPLAN USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.

• Low et al. 2015. Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress. USDA Economic Research Service.

• Low and Vogel. 2011. Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States.USDA Economic Research Service.

• National Good Food Network webinar. 2015. Talk is Cheap... and Efficient! Facilitating value chain development without costly new infrastructure

• Farm to Table Co-Packers (mentioned as a successful model)