Local/Regional Foods

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.

The information linked at right is provided by the AgMRC program as a tool to provide guidance in the development of a local/regional food business. A food business has specific issues and factors that are directly affected by state, federal and local regulations; laws; and food safety guidelines that should always be completely understood and examined by an entrepreneur. Additionally, it is equally important that the entrepreneur understand where they can get assistance in answering their questions regarding the laws surrounding the preparation and sale of food products.

For instance, will you be selling your food product at a farmers’ market, direct to consumers or will you sell the product online? Each of the various marketing channels has various regulations. You must be familiar with the labeling and handling requirements as well what items can or cannot be sold in those channels. Thorough research should be undertaken before you begin a food business, so that you completely understand the regulations and have the tools to make your business successful.

Business issues, such as labeling, marketing and handling, are unique within the food business sector, so it is vital to thoroughly research all facets of the food business prior to doing business. This guide was developed to help you understand the laws and regulations and to also provide contact information and leads to the technical and resource service providers who can further assist in the development of a food business.

This information should be used as a beginning resource, and proper consultation and advice should always be obtained from the organization or agency that has jurisdiction over the specific topic that is applicable.

It is suggested that you read through the information linked at right to locate areas that you feel you might need additional information or training. As you begin to understand those areas, you will develop questions and may need assistance.

National Local/Regional Food Programs

  • ATTRA, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service - Provides information on sustainable agriculture and renewable energy.
  • Buy Fresh Buy Local - Working to rebuild local food systems and promote sustainable agriculture.
  • Buy Local Think Global - This site lists farmers' markets, growers associations, articles on buying local, energy news, technology and business.
  • Environmental Nutritional Solutions - Provide reports on the benefits of sustainable food systems.
  • Farm to School - Connects schools with local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias and supporting local farmers.
  • Guide to USDA Funding for Local and Regional Food Systems, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, 2010 - This guide describes 15 grants and programs that are relevant to local and regional food systems development, directing users to resources that can provide help in designing a project and writing a grant.
  • Know your farmer know your food initiativeKnow Your Farmer, Know Your Food connects the USDA and people working to reinvigorate local and regional food systems. Through online conversations with USDA experts, chats with Deputy Secretary Merrigan and a commitment to understanding what works in local communities, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is a national conversation between the USDA and anyone involved in sustainable agriculture.
  • MarketMaker - Local and regional food initiatives, food traceability and certification awareness.
  • Women, Food and Agriculture Network - Provides networking opportunities for women in farming and food systems development and informs women about conservation practices and programs available.

Local/Regional Food Articles

  • Best Practices for Sponsors and Managers, New Jersey Agriculture Experiment Station, Rutgers University - This on-line course is designed to help successfully plan, begin and sustain a farmers' market.  The course fee of $79 permits access to the course materials for four months.
  • Comparing the Structure, Size, and Performance of Local and Mainstream Food Supply Chains, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2010 - The objective of this report is to improve understanding of how local foods are being introduced or reintroduced into the broader food system and of potential barriers to expansion of markets for local foods. A series of 15 case studies compares the structure, size and performance of local food supply chains with those of mainstream supply chains.
  • Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States, ERS, USDA, 2011 - This research documents that farmers’ sales to local grocers and restaurants account for a large portion of all local food sales. Farmers marketing food locally are most prominent in the Northeast and the West Coast regions and areas close to densely populated urban markets. Climate and topography favoring the production of fruits and vegetables, proximity to and neighboring farm participation in farmers’ markets, and good transportation and information access are found to be associated with higher levels of direct-to-consumer sales.
  • Green Thumbs Up, Rural Cooperatives magazine, USDA, 2009 - Interest in community gardens is sprouting all across America.
  • How to Start Your Business at a Local Market: A Vendor Handbook, Project for Public Spaces - This handbook, available in English and Spanish, provides a guide for interested vendors on how to determine what to sell, pick a market, manage their business and set up a stall. The book can be purchased for $15 as a PDF download.
  • Is Local Food More Expensive? Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University - Interest in local food systems has increased dramatically and research was conducted to find what consumers pay for locally grown products and how those prices compare to non-market channels.
  • Jumping on the Next Bandwagon: An Overview of the Policy and Legal Aspects of the Local Food Movement, National Ag Law Center, University of Arkansas, 2009 - The purpose of this article is to explore what the local food movement is, why consumers are interested in basing their food purchasing choices on where their food originates, current and future regulation of local food, and where this movement may be headed in the future.
  • Local Food, Food Law Blog, 2011 - The author, a practicing attorney, discusses "farmwashing," where large food businesses take the idea of "local" and apply it to the farmers that produce their raw materials.
  • Local Food--Perceptions, Prospects, and Policies, Choices magazine, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, 2010 - This edition of the magazine features seven papers that "help clarify perceptions about local foods, prospects for growth in their supply and demand, and policy issues affecting the development of local food systems."
  • Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues; ERS, USDA, 2010 - This comprehensive overview of local food systems explores alternative definitions of local food, estimates market size and reach, describes the characteristics of local consumers and producers, and examines early indications of the economic and health impacts of local food systems.
  • Local Foods Marketing Channels Encompass a Wide Range of Producers, Amber Waves, ERS, USDA, 2011 - The size of the U.S. local food market was $4.8 billion in 2008. Local food marketing channels varied with farm size, region of the country, and proximity to population centers. Operators of small and medium-sized farms with local food sales spent more hours farming and are more likely to list farming as their primary occupation than similarly sized farms without local food sales.
  • Market Forces: Creating Jobs Through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2011 - In this report, author Jeffrey O’Hara explores the recent growth of farmers markets and other local and regional food systems, describes key features of these systems, evaluates their economic and other impacts on the communities in which they operate, and offers data on their potential to create jobs in those communities.
  • Minnesota Speciality Crops: An Analysis of  Profitability and Performance 2008-2011, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, 2012 - This report contains results for fresh-market apples, berries, cantaloupe, grapes, pumpkins, sweet corn and assorted vegetables.
  • Ripe Time Delivery, Rural Cooperatives magazine, USDA, 2009 - North Carolina growers form a co-op to supply farm-to-school market.
  • Slaughter and Processing Options and Issues for Locally Sourced Meat, ERS, USDA, 2012 - This report evaluates the availability of slaughter and processing facilities for local meat production and the extent to which these may constrain or support growth in demand for locally sourced meats.
  • Sysco's Journey from Supply Chain to Value Chain - Results and lessons learned from the 2008 National Good Food Network/Sysco Corporation pilot project to source and sell good food.
  • USDA Awards First Grants to Increase Local Foods in Eligible Schools, USDA, 2012 - USDA awarded more than $4.5 million in grants for 68 projects in 37 states to connect school cafeterias with local agricultural producers. The projects will involve nearly 2 million students.