Surveys have shown that consumers see value in local foods as supporting the local economy and providing a provenance of where the food came from to increase its worth. Local food is best seen as a type of “value-added agriculture”, where the value that is added is the capability for two-way information flow between the farmer and the consumer. As local food production increases, it is important to recognize where that “value” ends up, and who is counting it.
Many entrants to local food system production are first-time farmers. Young, beginning, and small farmers can start with rented ground and minimal equipment. Small scale operations aimed at producing food for direct-to-consumer sales are akin to being a second job, but one that certainly doesn’t show up in official economic measurements like the employment rate.
Local food production can also provide opportunity for mid-scale farmers to diversify their products and markets. Even growing the exact same crop—but marketing it through local food channels—farmers can leverage their land base, equipment assets, and managerial skills into higher sales margins for their fruit, vegetable, or meat crops in order to supply vendors like Wal-Mart and SYSCO. At this scale, production of local foods can easily be seen as contributing to job creation on the farm and beyond.
Getting non-farm policy makers to envision farm businesses as creators of jobs is important because that’s one way that widespread positive economic impact is measured. Another more difficult way of describing the success of farmers is to measure the amount of locally produced food that gets to nearby consumers.
At their best, Food Policy Councils serve to focus opportunities for local farmers to find markets and be successful. Food Policy Councils are organizations that include wide representation of farmers, non-farm policy makers, and advocates for local economic activity who collaborate to find ways to grow, distribute, utilize, and enjoy more local food.
Some Farm Bureau staff and leaders are participating in local foods discussions through state and local Food Policy Councils. Ohio Farm Bureau became involved in their Food Policy Council (FPC) in 2007 because of increased consumer interest in foods.
According to Ohio Farm Bureau’s policy paper on Food Policy Councils, FPCs are an officially sanctioned group of stakeholders that “focus on food systems as an economic development strategy that links farm production, conservation and farm viability with public health, food security and community well-being. Food systems incorporate food production, processing, distribution, and consumption. They may also incorporate waste disposal and recovery systems. The system can be local, small neighborhoods or international food systems. … Traditionally, agricultural related issues were considered to be the purview of federal farm bill programs. Today, there is consumer interest in facets of agriculture that fall outside the realm of traditional federal policy.”
The Agricultural Law Center at Drake University has developed an extensive initiative on state and local food policy. On their FAQ page, they explain that “the Center has a Partnership Agreement with the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) to help create State and Local Food Policy Councils as an alternative strategy of risk management. Operating and newly forming Councils have received assistance in Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, and the Hopi Native American Tribe and are being considered in several other states. Part of the partnership agreement between Drake University and the RMA is to work with governments and organizations interested in forming a Food Policy Council by providing resources, consultation, and funding assistance.
Outcomes from FPC initiatives have included:
- Promoting direct marketing opportunities such as institutional purchasing
- Creating new forms of insurance for small producers
- Implementing the farmers’ market nutrition program
- Creating a State Food Security Task Force
- Developing guidelines for school nutrition programs
- Developing state-wide marketing initiatives to promote locally grown foods
- Implementation of EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) equipment at farmers’ markets
- Implementation of “Farm to School” and “Farm to Cafeteria” programs
- Performing an Ag Inventory to identify municipal land which may be available for community gardens or other agricultural uses
According to the chapter on How Food Policy Councils are Organized, the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) says, “In many cases, food policy councils are created by government bodies as the result of a report or series of events in a community showing that dramatic changes are needed in the local food system. . . The FPCs are formed to conduct public education and research, delve into advocacy work, propose necessary legislation and give overall guidance about how to remedy such a problem of food insecurity in the community. Many times these types of FPCs are asked to not only look into local food system deficiencies and policy issues but to help design and implement projects that address those matters. Their role is also to continue monitoring and educate the public and government officials about the community food system.”
The CFSC also lists sample documents from other FPCs, including mission statements, by-laws, voting structure, membership guidelines, annual reports and meeting agendas. There are also sample marketing and outreach documents such as brochures and event flyers, and reports, such as community food assessments, reports, and issue briefs, plus the NM Food and Agriculture Policy council called “Closing New Mexico’s Rural Food Gap,” and other How-to-resources on lessons learned, how FPCs operate, sample budgets, and integrating open space technology.
Active state FPCs include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. The Drake Ag Law Center also lists all of the state and local FPCs by state, including an interactive map. Some State Food Policy Councils are authorized by State Governments (doc).
Model legislation to build a farm and food system in Illinois is illustrated by the IL Food Farms and Jobs Act.