Local Food Systems: Emerging Research & Policy Issues

In recent years, consumer awareness of and interest in food that is locally and regionally grown has increased sharply. While locally grown food still accounts for a small share of total domestic food sales, it is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture. A workshop June 26, 2009, examined issues related to local foods.  The workshop, which took place at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), Washington, D.C., was a collaboration of ERS and Farm Foundation.

Despite growing interest in local foods, many questions remain about the impacts of local food systems on environmental and human health, food safety, marketing arrangements, and rural development. It also remains unclear what types of economic tradeoffs are associated with growth in local foods, and no consensus exists on the appropriate role for government programs and policies in local food systems.

The goals of this workshop were to:

  • Describe the size and scope of local food systems and discuss how the performance of local food markets is evaluated.
  • Critically examine measures of local food market performance, including price and product availability, impacts on rural economic development, environmental consequences and sustainability, food safety and quality, and social welfare issues.
  • Assess the economics of local foods by discussing supply and demand issues related to local food systems, as well as marketing considerations involved in the industry;
  • Explore the range of current government involvement in local food systems, including existing programs that foster local food distribution at the federal, state, and local levels, potential unintended consequences arising from public sector involvement, and barriers to growth in local food systems;
  • Examine the appropriate role for future government involvement in local food systems.


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