Local Food Sourcing Benefits to Growers and Communities
Utah experienced agricultural land losses of 301,300 acres (121,931 hectares) between 1982 and 2007 (Vilsack and Clark, 2009). Research has shown, however, that when farmers direct market their products to local restaurants, farmer income is increased and farmland losses decrease due to increased farmer revenues (Adam et al., 1999). As mentioned in a recent US Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, local food sourcing not only helps sustain small-scale farms but also supports a more diverse and wider variety of products, as opposed to monoculture farming normally associated with large-scale agriculture (Martinez et al., 2010). Sourcing to restaurants provides direct benefits to farmers through expanded markets and improved pricing for their speciality crops. Additionally, farmers have more control over the production and processing methods they employ, as well as the opportunity to learn entrepreneurial business skills (Martinez et al., 2010). These results are associated with longer-term economic impacts for rural communities in that ‘a climate of entrepreneurship and risk-taking’ is encouraged (Gale, 1997, p. 25). Overall, the key benefits of selling to chefs/restaurants for growers include increased farm sales (Schmit et al., 2010), ability to develop a unique product brand and differentiate farm products (Curtis and Cowee, 2009), securing a market for products that may otherwise be lost due to excess supply in peak production seasons (Thilmany, 2004), and providing insight into current market trends and changing consumer demand (Pepinsky and Thilmany, 2004).
Local food sourcing has been linked to generating economic development in local communities, fostering public health outcomes related to food security, addressing food safety issues linked to the spread of disease, fostering an improved sense of community, and providing opportunities for both farmers and restaurants to promote environmental sustainability, leading to positive public perceptions (Pearson and Bailey, 2012). For example, studies in Iowa found that replacing imports with locally produced goods created jobs and boosted local retail returns in industries throughout Iowa (Swenson, 2010a, b). In Florida, local food purchases created 183,625 jobs and $10.47 billion in added value to the community (Hodges et al., 2014).
The contribution of local food to total food sales varies substantially by region, primarily due to differences in the products or varieties grown, the proximity of consumers to farming areas, and population density. For example, between 1992 and 2007, local food sales grew three times faster in the Far West and Rocky Mountain regions than other US regions (Low and Vogel, 2011). Fresh fruits and vegetables dominate local food sales, and, thus, areas where growing conditions favour their production see strong sales. The value of local foods is highest in areas where farmers markets and farms are near a large urban population centre. Overall, the value of local food sold is highest in the Northeast and Western US regions (Rushing, 2013).
Thus, the benefits associated with local food sourcing extend beyond the farmer to the community as a whole. This is demonstrated by Bachmann (2004), who states, ‘selling to local chefs is among the alternatives that will help to build a diverse, stable regional food economy and a more sustainable agriculture’ (p. 1). Other studies have shown that local food sourcing, or the reduction in food miles, may benefit the environment by reducing carbon emissions associated with traditional food supply systems (Pirog and Benjamin, 2003).