As farmers, retailers, hospitals and schools strive to meet the demand for local foods, a new AGree report examines the growth in local food systems, the hurdles to further expansion, and presents six recommendations that would support their development.

The report, Local Food: Revitalizing Community-based Food Systems, presents the consensus views of diverse stakeholders, dispels common myths about the local food movement and provides a bird’s eye view of projects underway across the nation to aid local sourcing.

“The discussion is no longer about whether local food is here to stay, but rather about its rapid expansion and important role in the livelihoods of young farmers, community economic development, and healthy eating,” said Kathleen Merrigan, AGree Co-Chair and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. “This AGree report is a consensus document endorsed by diverse stakeholders across the country – a clear sign that we have come to the end of the era of political battle over the value and meaning of local food. Now, the challenge is how to best maximize the benefits of local food for farmers and communities.” 

Dan Glickman, AGree Co-Chair and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said, “Many people think only of small farms selling produce at farmer’s markets when they hear the term local food. In reality, less than one-third of farms selling local foods are growing fruits, vegetables or nuts and most suppliers are midsized and large farms. This report provides new perspective by taking a 360 degree look at the growth, challenges and opportunities associated with local food systems.”

Jim Moseley, AGree Co-Chair and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, said, “Those of us who have been farming for many years know that production for local consumption isn’t ‘new’ – we grew up with it in rural America. What is new is a growing consumer demand for local food and supporting farmers and food entrepreneurs so they can tap into new markets. This report presents ideas about how we can do just that.”

Emmy Simmons, AGree Co-Chair and a former Assistant Administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said, “We have seen across the U.S. that local leaders, businesses, and producers are working together to create new economic opportunities by expanding local and regional food systems.  As the report indicates, there are challenges to be met, among them, accessing adequate credit and affordable farmland and building production to meet the scale of market demands.  However, I have been impressed with the progress that so many communities have made already and fully anticipate further successful growth of local food systems in the years to come.”    

The report’s six key recommendations call on stakeholders to embrace diverse agricultural systems to achieve sustainability, productivity, and profitability goals; urge flexibility in the federal definition of local food systems to allow continued innovation at the local and state levels; encourage the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the philanthropic sector to further develop and refine tools and information resources that empower local connectivity, coordination, and investment; suggest USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) adapt programs and regulations to serve local food systems; advocate for more research to understand demand for local food and to inform investment by quantifying the economic, environmental, and social benefits; and call for greater engagement of experts in economic development, transportation, health care and other fields at both the local and federal levels to develop local food systems.

The local foods report upholds AGree’s tradition of soliciting nationwide input and building consensus among diverse stakeholders through patient dialogue. The recommendations reflect the views of stakeholders from California to Virginia whose expertise covers the spectrum of food, nutrition, public health, agriculture, and rural development.