New Report: Local Food Could Be the Savior for Struggling Local Economies

Cherry blossoms Picture: Cherry blossoms from the last remaining orchard on Orchard Prairie in Spokane, WA.

Not every region and foodshed is capable of producing most of its own food for local consumption, but a new report on the Treasure Valley of southwest Idaho begs the question why regions that are capable of producing a majority of their own food don't even come close. Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Institute was hired by the Treasure Valley Food Coalition to assess their local food system and in a recent presentation he explained;

Idaho is one of the nation’s top producers of wheat, milk, cheese, onions, potatoes and dry beans. Nationally, according to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, we rank in the top 10 for production of 26 different crops and livestock. Yet most of that food leaves the state and we receive about 98 percent of the foods we consume here from outside sources...

Treasure Valley consumers spend $1.87 billion on food each year, yet $1.7 billion worth of that food comes from outside our region. According to Meter, if consumers bought just 15 percent of their fresh produce from a local farm or at a farmers market, it would be enough to produce $165 million in new farm income per year. Imagine what could happen if we all bought 50-75 percent of our produce, meat and dairy from local sources. “If you don’t invest in local production it won’t grow any higher,” Meter said.

He concludes;

...the current food production system removes wealth from rural producers and communities instead of leaving it where it is needed most: the local economy.

This sounds straightforward until you get to the part about farmers making an economic decision to grow fresh produce which is labor intensive, climate sensitive, with a short shelf life and few guarantees from local wholesalers that they will purchase locally instead of from California or Florida. Growing fresh produce has to be one of the most challenging ways to make a living.

Almost all of the subsidies that provide some stability for farmers go towards commodity crops, so farmers, who are putting their livelihood on the line (and often their life savings) every time a seed goes into the ground, generally choose commodity crops. 

Like Meter suggests, it will take some kind of "investment" in local production, whether it's from government or elsewhere, to shift the percentages. It will also take consumers of a particular region demanding local produce not only at the Farmers' Market but at Albertsons and Wal Mart. It would also help if we all ate more fresh seasonal produce instead of processed foods.

Check out C&S Hydrohuts for the kind of local food production experiment that may pave the way for more local food consumption in northern climates like Spokane.

h/t @NWFoodNews