Volume XI | Issue 1 | Spring 2011
It makes economic sense to keep food dollars local, such as buying these Oregon berries. Photo: Dave Tuttle

Research offers insights

Study quantifies economic benefits of local food; identifies barriers

The “buy local” food movement is gaining popularity nationwide, and new research is giving people new reasons to buy into it. A recent report on food systems in Lane County, for example, puts an impressive dollar figure on keeping food local. Ninety percent of food dollars currently leave the area, the report says, but every percentage point recaptured means an economic gain of nearly $12 million for the county.

The Lane County Local Food Market Analysis is one of several research projects taking place across Oregon that endeavor to answer fundamental questions about local food systems and how they affect hunger, health and economic vitality. The Lane County research was conducted by the University of Oregon’s Community Planning Workshop and its city, county and business partners. In addition to quantifying the economic benefits of local food, the study identified barriers to localizing food processing, storage, distribution and regulation. 

a disconnect between growers and local markets

The study identified a number of gaps in the local food supply chain. There is a disconnect between growers and local markets, for example, with buyers often unaware of the local food available and how to access it. Limited processing and storage capacity adds to the problem, as do institutional and grocery store requirements, which can pose an economic burden for small producers. 

Authors of the study, while acknowledging these barriers, also recognize that significant opportunities for economic development exist when the food system is “re-localized.” In order to lessen the production risk faced by small farmers, researchers suggest fostering a system “in which farmers, processors, distributors and others share the risks and returns associated with food production.” 

Specifically, researchers suggest a strategy of small investments achieved through public-private partnerships. These investments could fund projects such as a manual for growers on doing business with local stores; development of a storage facility to store local fruits and vegetables year round; and creation of a local food coordinator position. 

Several other research projects in Oregon are providing valuable information and resources for rural communities in Oregon.

Oregon State University — Rural Studies Program

As Oregon’s land grant university, Oregon State University has focused on rural communities since its establishment in 1868. Since 2001, the Rural Studies Program and its Sustainable Rural Communities Initiative has studied many facets of rural life, many of them related to food systems. The department’s website offers a host of resources for researchers. The Oregon Rural Communities Explorer link provides additional details at the county and community level.

Meyer Memorial Trust — Community Food Systems in Oregon study

A recent study by the Meyer Memorial Trust provides a broad assessment of food systems in Oregon, and specifically issues related to food security, health and economic vitality. 

University of Oregon, Oregon Food Bank — 
Resource Assistance to Rural Environments (RARE)

Through the RARE Program, administered by the University of Oregon’s Community Service Center, graduate students live in rural communities for 11 months to conduct research and help improve economic, social and environmental conditions.

Since 2008, Oregon Food Bank has partnered with RARE to place students in seven rural communities. The students have completed five community food assessments covering 14 counties, published six local food resource guides, helped to develop farm-to-school collaborations and facilitated community-wide discussions. 

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