Local-Foods Market Faces Growing Pains
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Food industry experts estimate that U.S. consumer demand for locally grown foods could reach $7 billion by 2012.
“Increasingly, consumers want to have more connection to their food. They want to know where it came from, how it was grown and who grew it,” said Bill McKelvey, a local food systems expert with University of Missouri Extension’s Healthy Lifestyle Initiative. Access to fresh local foods is one goal in this community-based project.
The health benefits are significant, McKelvey said. “If you’re purchasing food locally, you’re probably purchasing more fruits and vegetables, and leaner meats.”
For now, the local-foods market relies primarily on direct-to-customer sales through farmers markets and community-supported agriculture, in which customers purchase advance shares of a farm’s production in return for regular deliveries during the growing season.
“We’ve done a pretty good job with those types of enterprises in that they are pretty well-established,” McKelvey said. “The challenge is scaling up to reach a larger market. If you want to get into a grocery store, a school or some other institution, it becomes very challenging because you run into scale issues. You need more volume to serve those places.” The small to medium-sized farms that represent the majority of enterprises engaged in local food production also need infrastructure to process, store and distribute their goods.
Cooperatives are one example of how to address issues of volume and infrastructure, McKelvey said. “Producers in a cooperative can pool their resources to provide larger volume and invest in a warehouse and truck. That’s going to be an advantage. It will be easier for retailers on the other end to deal with one entity rather than many individuals.”
McKelvey believes help to expand local and regional foods systems could be on its way through USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign.
While the campaign and MU Extension’s Healthy Lifestyle Initiative share the goal of expanding consumers’ access to fresh produce, USDA has made infrastructure a priority for its program.
“USDA is devoting staff and time to local food systems and reviewing existing programs to see where locally grown foods fit,” McKelvey said.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” he said. “The local-food movement is really starting to grow. This initiative is going to provide some much-needed financial and technical assistance to move a lot of projects forward.”
MU Extension’s Healthy Lifestyle Initiative: http://extension.missouri.edu/healthylife
USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food: http://usda.gov/knowyourfarmer