Local Food Means Job Growth: How You Can Help

A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that the local food movement is growing steadily and is employing four times more people than if those farmers only sold nationally or internationally.

In 2009 the USDA rolled out its campaign to encourage local food, the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program. The 2011 study confirmed that local food is a win-win situation. The study found that for some farmers, local food sales made up 61 percent of total sales. Some main points of the report, as explained by Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan include that:

1. Local markets are important for a lot of farmers. The study found that 40 percent of all vegetable, fruit, and nut farms (nearly 110,000) in the United States sell their products in local and regional markets. Also, roughly 61 percent of these farms’ total sales came from local sales.

2. The market for local foods goes well beyond direct-to-consumer sales. The local food story is not just about consumers buying foods directly from farmers, at a farmers market or community-supported agriculture program, even though direct sales increased 215 percent between 1992 and 2007. But intermediate marketing channels, such as farmers selling to a regional distributor, grocer, or restaurant, and then on to a consumer, have also been growing. In fact, intermediate sales were three times larger than direct-to-consumer sales. So, indirect sales are also a vibrant part of the local food story.

3. Local doesn’t necessarily mean small. We tend to think that farms selling locally are on the smaller size, but larger local farms are more likely to sell to restaurants, distributors, and retailers than are small local farms, the study found, and direct-to-consumer sales are evenly split between small, midsize, and large farms.

4. Local means jobs. The report found that fruit and vegetable farms selling into local and regional markets employ thirteen full-time workers per $1 million in revenue earned, for a total of 61,000 jobs in 2008. In comparison, fruit and vegetable farms not engaged in local food sales employed three full-time workers per $1 million in revenue.

This isn’t the first report to show that local food efforts could help local economies. A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that investment in farmer’s markets could generate 13,000 new jobs in five years, while also providing healthy food options to local residents.

Besides shopping at farmers markets, there are other ways you can support your local food providers. Derek Denckla, chair of the New York City chapter of Slow Money, a national nonprofit committed to increasing investment in local food systems, says, “The majority of people invest in the stock market, but we want people to invest in their local food system.”

Here’s how:

1. Shop locally. Look for ways you can use at least a portion of your food budget to support a local food business, such as a locally owned bakery or a butcher shop that sells regionally raised meats. Or shopping locally may mean simply asking your favorite restaurant or grocery store if it uses local ingredients.

2. Move your money to a credit union. Big banks lend money to big companies, but small banks and credit unions are more likely to keep their loans close to home. Perhaps you will find a credit union that works toward lending to food and farming businesses, or one that provides no-interest loans to people who’d like to join a CSA but don’t have the $200 to $500 it can cost to buy a share.

3. Give a local food business a leg up. Thanks to sites like Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com, it’s easier than ever to invest in local businesses and nonprofits trying to get up and running. Give what you can to a local food endeavor needing some initial cash to get things going. Or, start your own!