MU Extension event explores impact of local food

The University of Missouri Extension hosted a conference Feb. 21 focused on rural and urban food systems and their impact on producers, consumers and regional economies.

The “Growing Local Food Economies: Good Food, Good Business” conference took place in Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield and Columbia. The event featured a keynote by Becca Jablonski, an assistant professor of Agriculture and Resource Economics at the Colorado State University.

Jablonski presented research highlighting two elements: evaluating farm and ranch profitability and the impact of sales in non-commodity markets, then using that data to assess economic and policy impact.

Her presentation emphasized that local food is big business for high-revenue grocery chains, citing commitments by major retailers like Wal-Mart to increase their purchases of local food products.

Kimberly Harrison, the owner of Harrison Valley Farms in Fulton, said she came to support the local food supply chain, and was surprised by what she learned about where farms sell their produce.

“The breakdown of the percentages that farmers sold locally, consumers versus restaurants versus institutions, that was a big surprise,” Harrison said.

Harrison referred to national survey data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which showed that about 35 percent of local food sales in 2015 went directly to the consumer, through community-supported events like farmers markets. Approximately 27 percent went to retailers, and roughly 39 percent went to institutions and intermediary businesses such as colleges, hospitals and schools.

The survey estimated that local food sales in 2015 were $8.7 billion. That number is expected to grow to $20 billion in 2020.

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