Revised February 2022
People are rediscovering the benefits of buying food locally. It is fresher than most produce in the supermarket and that means taste and nutrition are readily available to consumers. It is also good for local economies--buying directly from family farmers helps them stay in business. Nationwide, local foods are often sold directly to consumers through farmers markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture. Direct sales through these and other outlets are a small but growing part of U.S. agriculture. Sales of locally produced food occur through other outlets, too. Local products may show up in supermarkets, restaurants, and schools, and a growing number of major food retailers are introducing local food sourcing initiatives. (USDA)
Local and regional food systems have grown in popularity over the past decade as shown by the increasing supply of and demand for local foods. Some evidence of this growth includes nearly tripling the number of farmers’ markets, and the initiation of thousands of farm-to-school programs across the U.S. Local foods have often topped consumer and food professional surveys of food trends.
Local food systems operate within the existing framework for all food regulations and policies. A quilt of public and non-profit organizations work to shape food policy and regulations. For example, food policy councils are comprised of a broad range of individuals from all aspects of a local food system. They review the local food system to develop policy recommendations and strategies for expanding and improving local food systems to meet specific challenges at local and State levels. A range of local, State, and Federal regulations guide marketing, food safety, licensing, and other activities related to food production and sale.
Community Food Systems Tactics
Incubator Farms or Beginning Farm Programs
Community organization or private business that assists beginning farmer entrepreneurs in efforts to establish their own successful businesses. The farms typically train on successful business tactics and provide resources and services that are expensive or difficult for start-up entrepreneurs to access.
Food business that processes raw food products (such as produce, dairy, or meat) through physically or chemically altering products into value-added forms.
Food business or non-profit that connect consumers, buyers, producers, and food businesses by managing aggregation, distribution, and marketing of products from local producers. Typically food hubs offer the next scale of distribution to CSA and Food Box programs and sell to restaurants, grocers, and other wholesale retail locations.
Organizations or individuals working to glean food products that will go to waste at farms and food retail locations. This bridges the gap between food waste and fighting hunger by offering opportunities for individuals, organizations, and farmers to donate food that is not used, rather than throwing it away.
Midwest Independent Grocery Stores
The USDA states that one of the most consistently referenced data points for vibrant, sustainable communities is a robust and diverse local economy. An essential element of a healthy economy is a thriving set of small businesses. The Center for Rural Affairs argues that the independent and locally owned grocery store is one of the most important businesses in a small town. The local independent grocery store is an integral institution for communities and part of the critical infrastructure necessary for keeping a community vibrant and viable. These stores are critical to sustaining community vitality by generating economic activity, enhancing sense of place, and providing food access.
Midwest Independent Grocery Store Final Report