Sustaining Communities With Local Food: A Survey of Potential in Mississippi

Final report for CS15-093

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2015: $35,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: Mississippi
Principal Investigator:
Shelly Johnstone
Mississippi Food Policy Council
Nancy Woodruff
Mississippi Food Policy Council
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Project Information


Recruiting and retaining business and industry are the primary focus of economic development in Mississippi. Although developing local food systems is not a current activity, personal interviews with twenty development officials revealed acknowledgment by most that the state’s 90% imported food supply ($6.5 billion annually) represents economic opportunity.

The benefits of developing local food production in a rural state with an estimated 30% vocational workforce and for small communities with few development options were also noted by economic developers.

Across the U.S. development of local and regional food systems (LRFS) has been greatly expanded in the past decade through public and private support, extensive non-profit and philanthropic activity, creative financing for food businesses, interest in agri-tourism and local sourcing by restaurants, surges in direct marketing and institutional buying, emergence of food hubs for aggregating and distributing, and new tools for assessing economic impacts.

An important trend related to LRFS is the rising demand for sustainably grown foods. Despite the higher prices and the extra effort often needed to obtain organic and grass-fed or pastured foods, these labels are showing sustained appeal. Consumer research in the U.S. and Europe shows a developing awareness of food quality and food system issues, including concerns about growing practices that impact health, environment, and worker and animal welfare. 

Lifestyle-oriented medicine is also supporting sustainable food production.  Functional and integrative physicians, integrative nutritionists and many health coaches are discussing food quality with patients, explaining why organic and grass-fed options are important to consider. The success of these lifestyle-oriented approaches in improving and even reversing chronic conditions (e.g. autoimmune disorders, heart disease, neurological dysfunction and obesity) is encouraging mainstream acceptance in clinical practices, academic programs and among health insurers and consumers.

In Mississippi, St. Dominic’s Hospital began the South’s first reimbursable lifestyle intervention program for heart disease reversal in 2015, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center begins offering its culinary curriculum to medical students in the fall of 2017 for elective credit. 

In addition to health and environmental benefits, proof is emerging that sustainably produced foods are economically beneficial at the local level. When 225 ‘organic hotspots’ around the U.S. were compared to general agricultural activity, poverty indicators improved and household median incomes rose by $2000 on average.

This is an opportune time to bring Mississippi’s food dollars back to local areas and create jobs in a green industry with sustained demand. With institutional buying programs expanding, e.g. farm to school and hospital, and consumer support for local food rising, opportunities for farmers and local food businesses are very good.

An abundant supply of locally produced foods creates better quality of life and more vibrant communities where young professionals, elders, working families, and business and industry are more likely to locate and to thrive.

Mississippi is still in the early stages of developing local food and establishing organic and grass-fed production. With its rich farming and culinary traditions, the state is uniquely positioned to take a cross sector approach to changing its food system and addressing its need for more jobs, better health and less poverty.

Economic development, agriculture and medicine are key players in providing the local food and lifestyle programs that can change health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. Mississippi might even lead the way toward what an American integrative cardiologist suggested to an international conference in June 2016: “It is time to take health as an economic strategy”.


Sponsors:  Mississippi Food Policy Council, Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, My Brother’s Keeper, Inc                         

Principal Investigators:  Michelle Johnstone, AICP and Nancy Woodruff, MPA, HHP




Objectives and Performance Targets


Outcomes and Impacts (Study Findings)

  1. Local and Regional Food Systems, U.S. Trends
  2. Local Food Systems in Mississippi, Economic Development Survey
  3. Sustainable Foods                                                                                                      






  1. Survey Documents
  2. LRFS: U.S. Trends
  3. Survey Results (raw data)
  4. U.S. Demand for Local, Organic and Grass-fed
  5. Consumer Choice Bibliography
  6. Lifestyle Medicine and Sustainable Agriculture
Project Objectives:

Three objectives from the original narrative were condensed into the two following objectives:

One: To understand what state and regional development officials know and want to know about local food systems and their potential as economic strategy in Mississippi.

Two: To research and compile what is known about consumer demand for local and sustainably grown foods in terms appropriate to economic development, and to describe environmental, economic and health drivers of demand for sustainably produced foods.


America’s current food system is scaled for national and international markets rather than local production and consumption. Its large-scale growing and processing methods require mass markets and movement of food in volume. This leaves local economies dependent on food imports controlled by entities beyond their influence. It leaves food consumers removed from the sources of their food and less able to know or influence the quality of those foods.

Mississippi imports 90% of its food supply, an estimated $6.5 billion annually as determined by An Overview of the Mississippi Farm and Food Economy, 2014, Ken Meter and Megan Goldberg, Crossroads Resource Center. (

The state’s Delta region (18 counties, and one of the poorest and unhealthiest regions in the nation) spends $1.3 billion on food annually, of which $1.2 billion is sourced outside the region.  (

To use food as a sustaining economic resource at the level of community and neighborhood requires evaluating the potential for local food systems (LFS) – used here interchangeably with local and regional food systems (LRFS) – to become part of the economic development process at the community, regional and state levels.

Considerable national attention by federal, nonprofit and private entities has been given to developing local and regional food production in recent years, particularly since 2010 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) included LRFS as one of five priority areas in its five year strategic plan.

Three Mississippi non-profit organizations – Mississippi Food Policy Council (MFPC), My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), and Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network (MSAN) – collaborated to carry out an exploration of their state’s interest in local food production. Funding from the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SSARE) and the Southern Rural Development center (SRDC) allowed the collaborators to pursue an evaluation of the potential of local food as development strategy in the state and to explore consumer demand for sustainably produced foods. The results will be used in the collaborators’ work to help improve the health of Mississippians and to create more economically viable communities in a rural state with a rich history of land, food and farming.


Materials and methods:

Objective One

  1. Personal interviews were sought with 23 Mississippi economic development officials and supporters resulting in twelve (12) personal interviews with officials (1 state, 5 regional, 6 local) and seven (7) personal interviews with supporters (4 colleges, 1 federal agency, and 2 private entities).  Two state agencies, one local authority and one regional authority either provided partial responses, did not respond or declined an interview.
  2. An online local survey (Survey Monkey) was sent via email to a geographically balanced mix of 61 local development authorities, including Chambers of Commerce, Main Street programs, and/or smaller city or county economic development agencies. Many of those surveyed are responsible for farmers markets and other farm-to-table programs in cities and counties.

Pertinent materials made available ahead of interviews included: the survey questionnaire (Appendix A), MFPC’s Policy Brief on Local Food Systems, and draft material on national trends in local and regional food systems and consumer demand for sustainable foods (final material in Appendices B and D). 

Objective Two

  1. Consumer demand for sustainably produced foods is described using market data from USDA, industry and other sources.  Categories for which data are available – ‘local’, ‘certified organic’ and ‘grass-fed’ – stand as the definition of ‘sustainably produced’ for the purposes of this study. “Certified naturally grown’ is an alternate label to ‘certified organic’ used by some small and beginning farmers, however sales from CNG farms are not available and are not included here except as they may be counted in direct-to-consumer sales for the category of ‘local’. Eight Mississippi growers are listed at  See Appendix D: U.S. Demand for Local, Organic and Grass-fed.
  2. Drivers of demand for sustainably produced foods are identified through a review of consumer choice studies; health as a driver is further explored through a discussion of lifestyle medicine and physicians who reference food quality and environmental concerns.  See Appendix E: Consumer Choice Research and Appendix F: Lifestyle Medicine and Sustainable Agriculture



Research results and discussion:

Study Findings

  1. Local and Regional Food Systems, U. S. Trends

 The 2008 Farm Bill established the foundation for developing and revitalizing the critical infrastructure necessary for vibrant regional food systems. Subsequently, USDA led the effort by making LRFS one of five pillars in its five year strategic plan. The agency has catalogued 27 programs in 9 different federal agencies that support local food efforts in a variety of ways.

Non-governmental, non-profit and private sector support is a large part of the activity around food system change, including farmer conferences, training and mentoring programs, restaurateur and celebrity chef advocacy, monitoring of food safety regulations, grant programs, social media, farm to table events, and more. Food and local food particularly is a phenomenon watched and written about extensively.  

USDA describes local and regional food systems as typically centralizing within a specific region all of the activities associated with producing, processing, distributing and marketing foods; LRFS convey information so consumers can learn about and feel more connected to where their food comes from, allowing them to target their purchases to support their local economy. Two congressional reports have been made on LRFS, 2013 and 2015. (

Because the wage and proprietor income earned by local food producers tends to be retained in the local economy, the economic impact of LRFS is of special interest. USDA-Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS) finds that on the farm, local food systems are generating 13 farm operator jobs per one million in sales. ("Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food”, p. 5.

In spring 2016, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA-AMS) in conjunction with academic and private partners released “The Economics of Local Food Systems: A Toolkit to Guide Community Discussions, Assessments and Choices” and is conducting workshops nationally. (

Individual states and communities are moving toward support for local food in various ways with some specifically taking local food production as an economic development opportunity and/or strategy. A few have taken the unusual step of declaring ‘food freedom’ or ‘food sovereignty’ as a means of helping small-scale, local producers navigate the pressures of food safety regulations that must apply to large and small-scale production. Extensive regulatory development is taking place with food producers and stakeholder groups interacting with state and federal authorities around the details of food safety.

See Appendix B: Local and Regional Food Systems, U.S. Trends

  1. Local Food Systems as Economic Development, Mississippi Survey

 Personal Interviews

Mississippi economic development officials and their in-state supporters (academic institutions, public agencies and private groups) were interviewed for their responses on local food as economic development strategy and on issues related to the production of local and sustainable foods. See Appendix C for raw data.

Key findings include:

  1. A 90% imported food supply in Mississippi surprised almost all economic development respondents; most agreed that local food could represent an economic opportunity in Mississippi, in particular for rural communities with few other options.
  2. Local food fits the state’s workforce, especially as a needed option for the 30% of youth who choose vocational training; early youth engagement is important.
  3. Constraints on local food development, including the need for market and food system studies, youth engagement, farmer training in sustainable methods and community investment for small food producers, will find economic developers willing to collaborate, but not lead; land use planning, food safety regulations and regulation impact on small producers are generally not seen as appropriate to economic development work, with some exceptions.
  4. Although healthy foods availability and health of workers are not site location criteria for most business and industry (B&I), some respondents reported that they are becoming of interest to some industries because of healthcare costs and worker health.  As a quality of life factor, however, a vibrant local food supply could be presented as a community’s ‘uniqueness’ factor and aid in its selection by industry.
  5. Despite price premiums and growing market demand for sustainably produced foods, growing methods are seen as outside the work of economic development; promoting farmer success in sustainable endeavors, however, is appropriate.
  6. Proof of local food’s impact on health outcomes could impact its potential as a strategy, although not all held this view.
  7. Regarding local food production as a strategy:
    1. Eight out of 10 officials felt their organizations would consider local food as a strategy at some point, although how the state’s economic development community will receive local food as a strategy at this time was uncertain.      
    2. Views varied on the most appropriate level for LFS work; most said local or state.
    3. Presentation of LFS as a strategy is best served by:
      1. speaking the language of economic developers with economic data and a focus on job creation
      2. showing relevance to development goals and other economic sectors
      3. seeking collaboration, don’t silo local food into one agency
      4. getting key players interested (governor, MDA, MEC, MEDC)
      5. having a strategy for promoting the idea of LFS as economic development

Selected comments that provide useful insights:

  1. Local food is more ‘boutique’ activity for the local level; it is secondary development such as agri-tourism.
  2. To be honest we (economic developers) are still chasing industry.
  3. Industries targeted for local development need to be within MDA goals to receive state assistance.
  4. Good data is essential if economic developers are to buy into any strategy.
  5. Public input is not gathered (in strategy development); it’s not a high factor but it could be.
  6. We (local economic developers) have only SBA loans to offer; a state-level program would help us help farmers more.
  7. Historically there is an unequal division of resources to small farmer efforts.
  8. Resource holders need to know more about food and health impacts.
  9. Small businesses bear more costs of unhealthy workers because larger industry a) receives incentives and b) can outsource work components (and thus worker issues).
  10. A proven link between demand for sustainable foods and important health solutions would be impactful (i.e. would help in taking local food as a strategy).
  11. Economic developers cannot do ‘every good thing’ but if local food becomes a development strategy this would help
  12. If local food is taken as a strategy, we would ‘go down the rabbit hole’ in its pursuit.

Online Survey   An eight-question survey of 61 local development entities received 21 responses, a 34% response rate. Almost 62% of the respondents represented Chambers of Commerce which have a long history in the state and are generally responsible for local retail development. The next highest representation was from smaller county or city local economic development foundations or other ED agencies. Main Street programs constituted about 15% of the respondents.

Findings included:

  1. None of the agencies reported that support for food-related activity was a primary part of their strategy. However, 86% indicated that it was a small or growing part of their strategy.
  2. Ninety percent of respondents said that within the last five years their residents have shown interest in having more locally grown and/or locally processed food easily available in the community.
  3. If involved at all in local food work, respondents noted farmers markets with some farm-to-table programs and agri-tourism. Five out of the 21 organizations promoted local foods as part of a healthy community strategy.
  4. Of 19 responders, 57% indicated they either have local food system development as part of their strategy or are working on it; regarding future strategies, 43% indicated they did not see the development of a local food system as a strategy or part of their work plan in the foreseeable future.

         3.  Sustainable Foods

 Consumers are a powerful force in determining what foods come to market. Today, they are also influencing where and how their foods are produced.

Local, organic and grass-fed are recognized as sustainable food categories which have market data available (or becoming so with grass-fed). Demand has been steadily rising at least since the late 1990’s in each category; recognition of organic goes back to the decades leading up to the passage of National Organic Standards in 1990.  

Definitions.  A “local food system” was defined in the survey of economic developers as: “a community network of consumers and producers whose economic exchange builds a resilient economy with stable jobs through the supplying of fresh, high-quality foods.”

A national definition for ‘local’ is currently being worked on by the USDA.

“Certified organic” is a distinct, USDA approved label applied on the basis of proven adherence to a set of production practices that restrict the use of synthetic inputs; similar labels such as ‘certified naturally grown’ are also marketed. A farmer who does not use a certified label but does restrict the use of synthetic inputs has an opportunity to tell the food consumer personally about his or her growing practices when selling direct at farmers markets, through a CSA or in the local market. USDA’s ‘know your farmer, know your food’ program is built around this local food principle.

“Grass-fed” is a developing category where animal products (poultry, eggs, beef, pork, dairy, lamb) are raised entirely on pasture rather than in confinement operations and where the feeding of grain is typically avoided for ruminant animals.

Local, organic and grass-fed are overlapping yet distinct categories, the latter two being defined by method rather than place. Distinction by method is important to a deeper understanding of why demand, especially for organic and grass-fed foods, is rising despite higher prices and less convenience in sourcing.

Trends:  U.S. and Mississippi.  Local food sales point to strong demand for locally grown via expansions in the number of farmers markets, on-farm sales, community supported agriculture (i.e. farm memberships) and other direct-to-consumer approaches. Farm-to-school and farm-to-cafeteria programs in hospitals and other institutions are expanding; local sourcing is a top food trend in restaurants nationally.

See Appendix D, “U.S. Demand for Local, Organic, and Grass-fed”, for information on U.S. and regional trends, including:

  1. Grass-fed or pastured animal products, particularly for beef, pork, dairy, poultry and eggs are increasing in market share; grass-fed beef’s current market share of 6-7% is expected to reach 30% in 5 to 8 years.
  2. National food retailers are seeking sustainably produced foods, including organic and grass-fed: Carl Jr and Hardee’s offer grass-fed burgers, Costco investors in spring 2016 were told by their CEO ‘there is not enough organics’, and the first ‘certified organic’ fast food chain opened in California in 2015 with plans for 25 more stores.

Of particular interest is a new study, “U.S. Organic Hotspots and their Benefit to Local Economies,” May 2016, by Dr. Edward C. Jaenicke, Penn State University; 225 organic ‘hotspots’ around the U.S. had “economic health at the county level (linked) to organic agriculture" They study also showed that organic food and crop production–and the business activities accompanying organic agriculture– "creates real and long-lasting regional economic opportunities.” An average rise in household median income of $2000 and a positive impact on poverty were found. (

In Mississippi farmers markets and direct-to-consumer outlets are known to be expanding (, however, production and sales data on local, organic and grass-fed by state are limited. The 2007 Census of Agriculture reported Mississippi as having 1,892 acres on 97 farms undergoing organic conversion.  Recently released information from USDA on certified organic farms places Mississippi in the lowest 'under 50 certified organic farms' category.  (

Local food activity by state has been captured annually since 2011 in the “Locavore Index”, a measure of which states are most committed to local food. In 2016, Mississippi moved from 46th to 44th place nationally. (

Factors influencing consumer demand.  Local, organic and grass-fed foods are currently a small portion of America’s food economy, yet if their growth remains sustained, these foods could be significant to rural economies and to environmental and human health concerns.

By their natures, sustainable practices and small-scale growing fit well together and are local-market-friendly. Aside from their perceived health benefits, sustainable practices lower input costs, something especially important to small farm operators. Their lack of reliance on chemical inputs also protects air and water quality, beneficial insects and pollinators, and supports the regeneration of soils through enhancing soil structure and microbial diversity. Consumers seeking all three labels – local, organic and grass-fed – are adding to the sustainability of their local communities in multiple ways whether or not they are fully aware of such impacts.

Whether current demand for sustainable foods will last over time is a question much larger than this study, however, a discussion of factors relevant to that demand, especially why consumers appear willing to pay higher prices and invest extra effort to procure sustainable foods, can be useful in the development of local and regional food systems.

As confirmed in objective one, Mississippi’s economic developers focus on creating jobs and economic value, and most see grower methods as outside their focus of work. Sustaining economic value and jobs over time, however, logically relates to what consumers will support in the long term and this makes consumer interest in sustainable foods important to consider.

Food is currently a hot topic in America and elsewhere and there is no lack of information about why some foods are believed better than others. Regarding sustainably produced foods, the following are reasons often given by advocates for food system change: better for the environment, promotes personal and public health, saves family farms, promotes animal welfare, supports and protects rural communities, empowers and protects workers, and tastes better. (

While buying local might be said to reflect consumer interest in supporting small farmers and their local economy and/or obtaining freshness for flavor and nutrition, ‘local and fresh’ do not necessarily indicate a concern for agricultural method. Fresh is about lack of processing and length of travel time to consumer, local is about location; organic and grass-fed are about grower practices.

What is influencing some consumers to go beyond fresh and local to pay more for organic and grass-fed and to spend extra time in sourcing? And what might this suggest about the importance of including support for sustainable growing practices in strategies for building local food systems in Mississippi?  

To shed light on this question, two reviews were undertaken: (1) of food consumer choice studies within the last decade that include organic and grass-fed food, and (2) of medical sources that speak specifically to issues of food quality and recommend local, organic and grass-fed foods. Neither review is exhaustive but rather intended to point to trends and emerging change.

Consumer choice research. Past research on consumer food choices found tradition, culture and socioeconomic factors such as resources and education to be defining influences. Current research finds consumer preferences being influenced by factors such as health concerns, food origin, convenience, naturalness, and concerns about environment, worker protections and animal welfare. (Appendix E, Bellows, et al)

Food consumers today are becoming interested in how food is produced and it appears they are factoring concerns about health, environment and local economy into their food choices. The “What’s Hot Chef Survey 2016” found environmental sustainability and local sourcing highest on the list.

Appendix E annotates twelve consumer choice studies published since 2005 that include local and organic foods and/or grass-fed beef in their assessments.

When consumers base their food choices on personal preferences (taste, flavor, smell, look, texture) they do so whether shopping for conventional or organic foods. When they buy locally they cite short transportation distances, being environmentally friendly and freshness as factors. (Appendix E, Schleenbecker and Hamm)

While other food attributes, particularly being allergenic, are becoming important influencers of consumer choice, the research is mixed regarding which factors are most important. Personal health factors were highest in some studies, concerns that production practices do harm to environment or animal welfare were priorities in others; convenience, naturalness, price, origin/location, protection of small farms and local economy were others.

Research on products identified as ‘organic plus’ versus simply ‘organic’ shows a consumer preference for the ‘plus’ benefits of humane animal treatment, local origin, and living wages for workers. (Appendix E, Schleenbecker and Hamm)

Research on consumer taste preferences for grass-fed versus grain-fed beef has shown mixed results. However, those consumers willing to pay more for grass-fed cited concerns about the production process, nutritional qualities, health information, animal welfare and environmental concerns, although not all factors met statistical significance. (Appendix E, Xue et al)

Organic consumption is greatest in the United States and Europe, but developing in other countries as well. More conventional products are also changing to reflect sustainable concerns.

When Mississippi economic development officials and supporters were asked (in the survey   conducted under objective one) to prioritize their personal reasons for buying local, they chose in priority order:

  1. support of local economy (15)
  2. flavor/freshness (20)
  3. relationships/community (32)
  4. food quality/methods   (40)
  5. support of environment (42)

Thus, support for local economy holds top priority followed by flavor/freshness and relationships/community. Food quality/sustainable methods and environmental concerns were of lesser importance. How closely the preferences of economic developers might reflect the general population of consumers in Mississippi is unknown.

Medicine and food quality.  While the importance of diet in disease prevention and the value of fresh over highly processed foods are well established, physicians, health practitioners and nutritionists have seldom questioned how a food is produced or what agricultural practices are involved; they typically have not discussed food quality factors such as pesticide exposures, nutrient density or added growth hormones with their patients.  But this has been changing.

Food and agriculture are of increasing interest to medicine and public health for the ways in which they can either damage or help change health outcomes.  Some current examples:

  1. “Systemic approaches that take full account of social, economic, ecological, and evolutionary factors and processes will be required to meet challenges to the U.S. food system in the 21st century” concluded a study released by the Institutes of Medicine in 2015.

  2. “Better alignment of agricultural and nutritional policies may potentially improve population health,” concluded researchers who found metabolic risk associated with the consumption of subsidized commodity foods.  (JAMA Intern Med. Published online July 05, 2016.

  3. Prenatal residential proximity to agricultural pesticide use was studied at UC-Berkley and a relationship found to decreased IQ in 7-year old children, August 2016. (Environmental Health Perspectives, July 25, 2016.

  4. In The Disease Delusion, 2015, Jeffrey Bland, MD, writes about cellular function and gene expression and how they are selectively influenced for better or worse by environmental factors, including by phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables.  “The fact that the phytonutrients in our food speak to our genes more gently and quietly (than other elements such as drugs), unraveling the needed information and parceling it out to the genes at different locations around the regulatory network, provides the stability of cellular function we equate with resilience – and therefore with good health.”  He concludes “It isn’t our genes that determine our life span and life’s health, but rather how we communicate with our genes.”  See more in Appendix F.
  5. In 2014 Cleveland Clinic became the first academic medical institution to create a Center for Functional Medicine. The Clinic writes on its website: “Our physicians are trained in Functional and nutritional medicine and our nutritionists are registered dietitians with specialized training in using food as medicine. … We are making a substantive case for the potential of Functional Medicine to change healthcare through improved outcomes and reduced costs within the current system.” See Appendix F for more on Functional Medicine.
  6. The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University is the first dedicated teaching kitchen to be implemented at a medical school; it recently offered a continuing education program in Memphis beginning September 2016.  The University of Mississippi Medical Center purchased the license from Tulane in 2015, began with evening cooking classes for 20 interested medical students and will formally offer the evening class format in the Fall of 2017 for first year medical students as an elective option for credit. (Email correspondence between Dr. Alan Penman and Nancy Woodruff, July 19, 2016, concerning UMMC’s culinary medicine program.)
  7. The University of Kansas Medical Center’s Integrative Medicine Clinic (among others) applies an approach to healing, including cancer; that includes their ‘medical nutrition therapy’, personalized nutrition based on metabolic testing.
  8. The health coaching industry is expanding along with consumer, employer and health insurer interest in employing coaches.  For example, Mississippi Blue Cross Blue Shield has a wellness coaching program and nationally the Institute for Integrative Nutrition has trained more than 100,000 health coaches in a curriculum that includes food as one of four pillars; its nutrition classes include “how organic, non-organic, commercial, and locally sourced meat and produce are different, and how farming methods can impact your health and the environment” (
  9. In searching for solutions to the high costs of prescription drugs in the U.S., a recent study published in JAMA included therapeutic alternatives to drugs as one solution. (Journal of the American Medical Association, August 2016, Food and lifestyle intervention programs could be such an alternative.

It is becoming clearer that agriculture and food processing can have both detrimental and beneficial impacts on food quality and on the environment depending on the methods used.  Whether chemicals remain as residues on produce or kill pollinators, whether soils are biologically active and contribute to nutrient density, whether animals are raised on pasture or in confinement with antibiotics – these are examples of what food consumers and some health practitioners are beginning to take into account.

Medicine is a broad discipline with many branches and specialties.  Food is most likely to be employed in lifestyle intervention programs and in healing protocols within Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and by practitioners referred to as integrative, holistic, functional, preventive, or environmental.    

Health practitioners who use food, environment and lifestyle components in treatment protocols will be broadly referred to here as ‘lifestyle-oriented medicine’ or simply 'lifestyle medicine'.

Practitioners of Functional Medicine in particular are concerned with the food quality their patients consume, as are the integrative nutritionists with whom they often work.  This emerging sector of medicine, dating back to the early 1990s, searches for the root causes of physical dysfunction by examining diet histories and environmental exposures and by using metabolic testing; they are seeking to uncover why endocrine, digestive, neurological, hormonal and other metabolic functions are disturbed.  Practitioners then build treatment protocols to eliminate the disturbance, repair damage and support healthy functioning.  Food figures prominently in their protocols along with stress management, clean environments, exercise, and other lifestyle factors and natural therapies.  On its website, The Institute for Function Medicine refers to using ‘food as medicine’.

When food is used therapeutically its quality is of special importance.  Functional clinicians typically recommend local, organic and grass-fed foods not only for their therapeutic value when consumed but because their production places fewer toxins in the environment.  Reducing exposures to environmental toxins, particularly the endocrine-disrupting chemical compounds known as ‘obesogenes’, is important to successful treatment.  

In functional protocols, quality foods and clean environments are key to repairing metabolic dysfunction and changing disease states at the level of cell metabolism.  Significant change appears to be underway in American medicine as heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, digestive and neurological conditions are responding to metabolic repair - with high quality foods playing a key role.

The success of functional practitioners would have significant impact on consumer demand and on what grower methods are needed for the high quality foods they recommend.

Also important to watch is the developing understanding of how environmental factors including plant foods ‘communicate with’ or impact cells, potentially changing gene expression for better or worse. 

Appendix F is a selected bibliography of writings since 2008 by functional and integrative practitioners annotated with references to local, organic and grass-fed foods and agricultural practices.  The Appendix also contains more information on Functional Medicine and the work of three leading Functional physicians. 



Knowing that Mississippi’s economic developers must create jobs and grow the economy, advocates for local food systems are wise to focus on showing how local food production achieves these goals, now and in the future. 

Beyond economics, however, improvements in health and environment from sustainably produced foods will likely bring support from other sectors, especially healthcare and public health.  As research continues to emerge on the human health effects of environmental toxins, the food production practices that best support health will find sustained consumer demand.  

Medicine, food quality and sustainable agriculture  It is significant that patients are hearing from their health providers about how food and environmental factors relate specifically to their personal health concerns, that food quality factors are being discussed and written about by health professionals, and that these practitioners are entering the mainstream.

It is important to follow the evolution of lifestyle-oriented medicine to understand what success it may have in treating chronic disease and to watch environmental health research as it sorts out how toxins, including from agricultural practices, negatively impact human health, and conversely, how foods and nutrition may be used to undo developmental damage.

Also important to watch is how health insurers are incentivizing health providers to improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.  Lifestyle intervention programs are being researched, certified and made reimbursable.  If this trend continues, lifestyle approaches will expand patient and consumer demand for healthy foods. 

But perhaps the most fascinating focus is on how high quality foods and nutrition are being used to ‘speak softly’ to our cells, balance the regulatory network and make us resilient. 

Agriculture and medicine have long existed in separate silos both as academic disciplines and at the practitioner level of doctor and farmer.  But this is changing.  As the importance of food quality to healing enters the mainstream, sustainable farming practices will be in greater demand.  As physicians teach patients how food and environmental factors impact cellular function and even gene expression, the disciplines of medicine and agriculture will find it hard not to converse.  Patients as food consumers will require it.  Their food buying preferences will shape the marketplace and change the food system.

To the extent reductions in healthcare costs occur and improvements in income and poverty can be seen (as in the organic ‘hotspots’ research) increased attention and support from multiple sectors can be expected for both lifestyle-oriented medicine and sustainable agriculture.

Sustainable agriculture in LRFS  The inclusion of sustainable farming practices in the design of local food strategies and systems is forward thinking.  As lifestyle-oriented practitioners and health and wellness coaches expand patient knowledge, more will ask questions about the quality of the foods they consume, the air they breathe and the water they drink.   

Getting new and beginning farmers started with sustainable methods allows them to expand with the market, averting the time and effort it would take to transition later.  As discussed earlier, low-input sustainable practices help build soil health and protect the farmer’s bottom-line from costly inputs, something small farmers especially want to consider.   

Producing a year-round supply of fresh, high quality foods in good variety, as much as possible within a given region, is not America’s current food system.  Yet, creating such production may represent one of the most important goals of our day.  Aside from economic and health benefits, a local, decentralized food system also means greater food security from threats of bioterrorism, and, arguably, greater food safety when contamination events are confined to a smaller number of consumers. 

High quality foods and healthy environments are quality of life factors that help create sustainable communities, making them more attractive to young professionals, especially with families, and to high tech industries and green businesses.  As one economic developer said in the Mississippi survey, ‘its not all bottom line anymore’, quality of life factors are becoming more important in the site selection process. 

Food equity and access issues, the healthfulness of seasonal diets, community networking benefits, boosting the cognitive and behavioral skills of students, reconnecting children to nature and everyone to the fitness benefits of gardening…. these and more are desirables that appear more manageable within the local arena than in the current food system.

Folding sustainable agriculture, and even lifestyle medicine, into the development of local and regional food systems has a lot to offer sustainability at the community level.  Taken together they begin the building of cross-sector partnerships.  Agriculture, medicine, public health, environmental quality, and economic development all have something to give and something to gain in the process of bringing healthy food dollars home to communities everywhere. 

Considerations for Mississippi.  Mississippi is in the early stages of building its local food production.  This has an advantage in that we can learn from the experiences of others and use that learning to design and tailor a system that fits our culture, resources and needs. 

If food turns out to figure prominently in the future of medicine and if the importance of sustainable methods is affirmed by more health practitioners, Mississippi will want to answer one relevant question: how do we engage local resources in providing a full plate of high quality foods year-round and with sustainable practices. 

We can of course grow locally but can we grow enough and can we do so with organic practices?  Can we produce enough pastured eggs and beef and milk without confinement and grain-feeding?  Can our peas and beans, sweet potatoes and greens, watermelons, blueberries and apples grace our plates with the phytonutrients that speak softly (and cleanly) to our genes, or fully power our mitrochondria as Dr. Terry Wahls did in overcoming her multiple sclerosis?  Can we grow nutrient-dense, toxin-free food to repair – not disrupt – endocrine functioning? 

A full-plate diversified agriculture is possible in Mississippi, especially when taken as a well-planned objective.  We are not the frozen north or the western desert and once our own food needs are met, we have the climate and land to produce for others as well. 

Reclaiming clean environments and rebalancing ecosystems where pollinators and beneficial insects flourish will take time.  Drawing forth and updating the farming and cooking skills of our youth, matching them to the land and to the kitchens from which healing food comes - this will also take time.  Putting food for medicine on the tables of Mississippi families and powering our special Southern sociability towards wellness will take a bit of doing. 

But once over a few hurdles Mississippi is well suited to leading on wellness, to demonstrating where healing is really accomplished – on the land and in the homes and communities, surrounded by social support and rooted in grace.     

Local food production plays an important role in the ‘local economy solutions’ appearing across America and around the globe. Many local solutions can be used in Mississippi.  The challenge is to find what applies to us, what is compatible with our uniqueness of culture and history, of climate and land and skills, and which are most helpful with our long-standing challenges with poverty and poor health.



This study confirmed that Mississippi economic development officials first and foremost are interested in growing the economy and creating jobs, and that recruiting and retaining industry is currently their primary focus.  While they see the opportunity in a 90% imported food supply, proving job creation and economic value will be important to engaging their support, as will more inquiries by business and industry about health and quality of life.

With Mississippi in the early stages of developing local and regional food systems, there is opportunity to consider including sustainable agriculture, and even lifestyle medicine, in these efforts.  The methods of both disciplines can provide multiple benefits for changing health outcomes and building and retaining economic value for farmers and communities, as well as adding to environmental quality.  When partnered with solid economic development planning, they contribute significantly to turning rural communities and even urban neighborhoods away from decline and toward resiliency.  Agriculture, medicine, public health, environmental quality and economic development all have something to give and something to gain in the process of bringing healthy food dollars home to Mississippi communities.



  1. Community supported agriculture is a marketing and distribution model used by farms in which customers take seasonal subscriptions that entitle them to weekly boxes of produce and locally produced foods; subscribers usually value their connection to growers, may participate in farm events and share the benefits and risks of production.
  2. Food quality in this report refers to the nutrient density and toxin-free condition of fresh foods; processing contributes to food quality as well but is not addressed here.
  3. Functional Medicine is an emerging branch of medicine that addresses the underlying causes of disease using a systems-oriented approach; protocols are individualized through assessment and testing; both patient and practitioner engage in a therapeutic partnership in which diet, lifestyle and environment are key players in changing the course of disease.
  4. Genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques; GMOs are used to produce medications and GMO foods.
  5. Grass-fed refers to cattle raised on forage (pasture) with little or no supplemental feeding (e.g. of grain or soy); beef and dairy products are referred to as ‘grass-fed beef’ or ‘grass milk’.
  6. Integrative nutrition is practiced by dietitians who make up a 4000+ practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; they practice an integrated and personalized approach to nutrition, health and healing. See
  7. Local food is not yet officially defined; USDA is working on a definition.  Local food may be seen as a direct marketing experience between producers and consumers within a specified geographic region (such as at a farmers market or in a farm to school program), or defined as a maximum distance from farm to consumer (e.g. Kroger defines local as within 400 miles). 
  8. Local Food System, as defined in the work of the Mississippi Food Policy Council, is “a community network of consumers and producers whose economic exchange builds a resilient economy with stable jobs through the supplying of fresh, high-quality foods.” It is used interchangeably with ‘local and regional food systems’ (LFRS) in this study.
  9. Lifestyle Medicine is an emerging area of medicine which includes research, prevention and treatment of disorders caused by such lifestyle factors as poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, stress, and toxic environments. Lifestyle-oriented medicine is used in this study to refer to all medical modalities that use changes in lifestyle as part of treatment.
  10. Nutrient dense foods are a rich source of vitamins and minerals (macro and micro nutrients) with a high ratio of nutrients to calories; fresh foods from rich, biologically active soils and consumed soon after harvest would have highest nutrient density.   .
  11. Organic: ‘certified organic’ meets approved methods as set forth in Organic Food Production Act, USDA organic regulations, and the National Organic Program Handbook with verification made by a USDA-accredited certifying agent; organic farms must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances (in general no synthetic inputs such as chemical pesticides and fertilizers).
  12. Sustainable agriculture is a broad term used by all agricultural sectors – conventional and organic; ‘sustainability’ refers to the outcomes of the methods each uses to protect the environment or reduce the impacts of environmental pollution and preserve agricultural systems for future needs.     
  13. Obesogenes are foreign chemical compounds that disrupt normal development and balance of lipid metabolism, which in some cases, can lead to obesity. Chemicals are ubiquitous in modern life; those used daily in products such as personal care and household cleaning, as well as those found in the food supply can be obesogenes.



B&I – Business and Industry

JAMA – Journal of the American Medical Association

LFS – Local Food Systems (used interchangeably with LRFS)

LRFS – Local and Regional Food Systems  (used interchangeable with LFS)

MDA – Mississippi Development Authority

MDAC – Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce

MEC – Mississippi Economic Council

MEDC – Mississippi Economic Development Council

MFPC – Mississippi Food Policy Council

MSAN – Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network

MBK – My Brother’s Keeper

SBA – Small Business Administration

SARE – Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program

SSARE – Southern SARE

USDA – United States Department of Agriculture

USDA-AMS – USDA Agricultural Marketing Service

USDA-ERS – USDA Economic Research Service

USDA-FNS – USDA Food and Nutrition Service



Appendix A: Survey Documents

Appendix B: Local and Regional Food Systems, U. S. Trends

Appendix C: Survey Results (raw data)

Appendix D: U.S. Demand for Local, Organic and Grass-fed

Appendix E: Consumer Choice: Annotated bibliography of Selected Studies Referencing Local, Organic and Grass-fed

Appendix F: Lifestyle Medicine and Sustainable Agriculture




Survey documents

MS Economic Development Questionnaire

Officials and Supporters (2015-16)

Interviewer:  ___________________                                    Date: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­_________________   


  1. Name of Organization: __________________________________
  2. Address: _____________________________________________
  3. Phone number: ________________________________________
  4. E-mail: ______________________________________________
  5. Contact Person/title: _____________________________________
  6. Geographic area served: ___________________________________
  7. Mission/goals____________________________________________


This survey research is funded by a partnership of USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE), Southern Region and the Southern Rural Development Center (SRDC).  The grant collaborators are MFPC, MBK and MSAN.  The project’s purpose is to collect responses from MS’s economic development community about the idea of local and regional food systems as development strategy.

3 documents inform our survey:

  • An Overview of MS’s Farm and Food Economy – study commissioned by MS Food Policy Council to inform its work on local food systems
  • “Cultivating Health and Wealth from Mississippi Soils” – a food policy brief developed out of the Overview
  • “Fact Sheet: Consumer Demand for Sustainably Produced Foods”


SECTION II – Agency’s current strategy and process   (Officials survey)

  1. Does your agency have a stated economic development strategy at this time, and if so what is it?
  1. Is there a specific process used to determine your strategy (work agenda)? (How is public input obtained?) 
  1. Do you use private consultants, academic resources or other sources of input?


SECTION II – Services Provided and to Whom (Supporters survey)

  1. What supports and services related to economic development does your agency/program provide and to whom?
  2. Do you advise or participate in the process of strategy development? If yes, for what geographical region(s): state, regional, local? 
  3. Is there a charge for your services? 



  1. The OVERVIEW study found 90% of the food Mississippians consume is imported from outside the state and that this results in an economic loss of $6.5 billion each year. Another $2.3 billion in purchased farm inputs (chemicals, fertilizers, etc) are also sourced outside the state. These figures surprise most people… as they did MFPC.   From an economic development viewpoint, would you interpret these figures as an opportunity, as a potential development tool for our state’s economy?
  1. If each Mississippi resident purchased $5 of food each week directly from a local grower, our farms would earn $774 million of new revenue annually.   In a community of 20,000 people, $5 per person per week is $100,000 to local producers.  Is this an economic value that could interest development authorities?


 14.  Local and regional food systems are getting a lot of attention today from USDA, universities, consumer groups and other stakeholders. As in most industries, a unique set of production, distribution and workforce factors are important for local food development:

  1. Farm operations are small to moderate size and usually diversified
  2. Equipment and technology, land and labor needs differ from those of large-scale agriculture:
    1. higher farm labor needs are usually a mix of family-centered, apprenticed and hired help
    2. small acreages can supply diverse foods to local markets
    3. low-input/low-cost techniques help small farmers control costs while growing the chemical-free foods health-conscious consumers are seeking
  3. Food processing for local markets is also smaller in scale
  4. Aggregation and distribution require reorientation to nearby buyers
  5. Specialized skills in food handling and preparation are needed - more fresh prep and from-scratch cooking in cafeterias and kitchens

This new workforce is primarily vocational, trade-oriented and entrepreneurial.  As you see it, how does or could our current Mississippi workforce fit with such place-based, non-global business and industry?

15.  In 2013, agricultural economists studying local food systems in the South looked at production, financing, labor, risk management and marketing. They reported that small farmer participation in local markets is steadily increasing, but concluded that development of local and regional systems will require more focus on the needs of small producers.

  1. In Mississippi our two land-grant universities, ASU and MSU, provide Extension services to farmers; Alcorn’s programming being the primary provider to small farmers.  Could you see developers working to identify and secure more support for smaller-scale food producers as they do for business and industry? 
  2. Does the presence of many producers and a dispersed workforce – rather than a single industrial operation – present a more unique challenge for development, particularly with regard to capturing job creation and/or economic impacts?



16.  Nationally, small business accounts for a good portion of net new job growth and private payroll. Local food production is part of this economic engine.  Like other business and industry, however, it also has challenges related to capital, land, workforce readiness and even technology.  The OVERVIEW study pointed to several areas of constraint.   I will read a challenge with a few resolutions for each.  Please tell me which resolutions are appropriate as economic development activities.  Your response choices on each resolution are:

Not an appropriate area for development activity

Developers could probably collaborate with others

Developers could take the lead

Challenge: Consumers seeking sustainably produced foods are playing a significant role in changing the American food supply; they want fresher, cleaner, more nutrient dense foods for use in wellness and healing protocols, some prescribed by their physicians.  Nationally, demand for local, organic and grass-fed/pastured currently outstrips supply.  Mississippi’s production of and demand for local and sustainably grown foods seems to be increasing, but remains largely unknown.  How appropriate might it be for economic developers to:

  • Commission a market feasibility study to determine present and potential demand among Mississippi consumers?
  • Have our food distribution system analyzed to determine how it might aggregate and deliver on a local and regional scale?
  • Secure training programs that help small-scale producers capture the price premiums of sustainably produced foods?

Challenge: The average age of a Mississippi farmer is 56.  Would economic developers typically:

  • Advocate for more programming that involves youth in food production such as school gardens, vocational classes, farm apprenticeships, etc.
  • Plan and promote strategies to keep working farmland available to production when farmers retire, such as capitalizing new and beginning farmers and promoting tax policies and conservation easements to incentivize keeping farmland in production

Challenge: Existing farmers need capital to expand and new farmers lack land. Could development activity:

  • Encourage private, community-level investment in local farms and food processing operations
  • Support land-use planning efforts and/or tax incentives that make vacant and unused land more available to farming in cities as well as rural areas

Challenge: Food safety regulations often burden small scale food producers who may be financially unable to meet requirements designed for large scale operations. Could economic developers:

  • Commission a study to detail how small food producers in Mississippi are actually fairing under existing state and federal regulations?
  • Work with state agencies to make regulations more appropriate to small-scale food producers?

Challenge: Over time, public land-grant resources have come to support commodity agriculture, which is quite different from locally-focused food production in method and type of production. Whole farm and on-farm training for small-scale, diversified producers is not widely available in our state, especially for sustainable and organic methods. Given the price premiums that exist in such food markets, this is an important technology issue.  Could development officials:

  • Encourage more training in whole-farm, sustainable methods within our land grant systems?
  • Develop a scholarship fund to support Mississippi growers who wish to apprentice on sustainable and certified organic farms here or elsewhere?



  1. The OVERVIEW estimated that Mississippi spends $2.7 billion annually to treat just one diet-related disease, diabetes. Access to a supply of affordable and fresh foods is considered critical to changing diabetes as well as other chronic diseases and obesity.

To what extent do business and industry consider disease data and health expenditures in choosing where to locate?

  1. Workforce wellness and productivity are closely linked and the value of wellness to a company’s bottom-line is usually a given. While business and industry may ask about factors related to workforce health, the quality of a community’s food supply is not likely an expressed concern at this time. 

Could you imagine a future in which communities with vibrant supplies of locally produced foods are more attractive to business and industry?

  1. How do you think existing business and industry might respond to a vigorous, state-led effort to create a more abundant supply of fresh, local foods?
  1. Can you think of any existing businesses or industry that might actually lend support to local food efforts in their community?”


  1. Our project is trying to learn the process and language of development. Assuming you were interested in LRFS as a development objective, please tell me whether the following description of local supply and demand issues is helpful – or not – in discussions with economic developers such as yourself.

There is a good ‘fit’ between rising consumer demand for sustainably produced foods and the methods that farmers growing for local markets are best suited to use.  Because of their smaller size and cost constraints, small and medium scale farmers often replace off-farm inputs such as fertilizers and chemicals with cover crops, composting, crop rotations, and beneficial insect controls.  These sustainable methods are what food consumers increasingly want to know about and a key reason they want to ‘know their farmer’. 

This type of understanding would be useful in designing training and other supports for small and limited-resource farmers, but do you find its detail outside the purview of development? 

  1. Some people believe that hot, humid Mississippi cannot use natural methods because pests and weeds are such a problem. And yet we have farmers who are successful with natural methods. 

Given increasing consumer demand for sustainably produced foods, would spreading this message of success be an appropriate objective or activity to include in a development strategy?


 23. Our SARE project includes researching consumer demand, including current medical and wellness drivers of the demand for sustainably produced foods.

To what extent do projections of market demand factor into which business and industry sectors are chosen for economic development work?  In other words, if market demand for local and sustainably grown foods can be linked to important health solutions, how would this affect your agency’s consideration of local food systems as a development strategy?

  1. Some states have begun considering local and regional food systems as development strategy. Massachusetts released a state food systems plan in October this year and Kentucky has made local food a central strategy for 11 counties.  At this time, Mississippi has no public or private entity specifically charged with building and promoting local food systems.

Given our state’s current development interests and economic climate at what level or levels do you think pursuing local food as a development strategy might be most successful?

  1. (Officials survey) Can you see local food production being considered, or even adopted, as a development strategy in your agency at some point?
  1. (Supporters survey) Might the encouragement of local food systems development be appropriate in your role and capacity as a supporter of economic development in Mississippi?

 26.  The SARE project will share the OVERVIEW information and these survey results more widely next spring at several association meetings.

Overall, how do you think our state’s economic development community might respond?

Do you have any suggestions about making such a presentation to development officials?

  1. (numbering error) Please prioritize the following according to your own personal interest in buying local foods: (via a farmer’s market, farm stand, CSA (farm membership) or directly from the farm. (1 = highest priority)

_____ I want to keep my money at home, help my farmer neighbors and my local ECONOMY.

_____ I can develop personal RELATIONSHIPS with the people who produce my food and other shoppers 

_____ I simply want FRESH, FLAVORFUL fruits and vegetables; to know my peas and corn, tomatoes and blueberries are ‘vine ripe’.

_____ I don’t trust supermarket food like I use to.  I’m concerned about antibiotic use, growth hormones, too much processing.  I shop locally so I can ask about these QUALITY factors.

_____ I like the idea of food not being transported long distances, it’s better for the ENVIRONMENT. 

This ends our survey.

Our SARE project will complete next August.  May we check back with you – say in July – to see if there has been any discussion or happenings related to local food in your organization? 

Would you like to suggest any specific conferences or audiences where we might be welcomed to discuss or present on the topic of local and regional food systems?




Local and Regional Food Systems, U.S. Trends

  1. Description of LRFS:
  2. Local economic impact::
    • Jobs:
      • USDA: on farm, local food systems are generating 13 farm operator jobs per 1 million in sales
      • Sacramento local food study: UC researchers find direct-marketers are generating twice as much economic activity as non-direct marketers primarily due to sourcing a much larger percentage of inputs from within the region (89% compared to 45%); direct marketers also generate 31.8 jobs per $1 million in sales compared to 10.5 jobs by non-direct marketers largely due to local input sourcing and greater labor intensiveness than non-direct marketers.
    • Revenue: “compared to their mainstream counterparts, revenue per unit for producers selling locally ranges from 50 percent greater for apples to 649 percent greater for salad mix. … nearly all of the wage and proprietor income earned in the [local] market chains is retained in the local economy.” (NE Ohio study)
  3. Funding (federal): rapid expansion since 2010 when LRFS was made 1 of 5 pillars in USDA’s 5 year strategic plan; Congress has received 2 mandated reports on LRFS (2013 and 2015); USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) program begun in 2009 has catalogued over 27 programs run by nine different agencies that support local food efforts in some way, including HUD, EPA, Transportation, CDC, Interior, Treasury, SBA, and Labor.
  4. Financing (private): new investment and business models are supportive of local and sustainable food efforts from social media fundraising to capitalized efforts such as Seed 2 Growth Ventures with $125 million in deployable capital and operating funds; certification of social and environmentally responsible businesses (B-Corp) includes local and sustainably produced foods.  Entrepreneur reported early in 2016 that "startups all along the food chain — from farmers and tech companies to home cooks — are reaping huge rewards [from venture firms]: $2.06 billion invested in the first half of 2015 ... nearly as much as the $2.36 billion total for 2014."    
  5. Production, Processing and Distribution: infrastructure for LRFS development – such as commercial kitchens, high tunnels, mobile slaughter units, food hubs, school and community gardens, cooperatives, terminal markets, urban farms, warehouses, locally-adapted seed, sustainable practices and traditional techniques, farmland protection, etc – receives funding support from public and private sources but must be initiated from the field by states, localities, NGOs, and/or producers.

Selected activity related to Local and Regional Food Systems development:

  1. Massachusetts released a statewide food system plan, Oct 2015; Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission has made local agriculture the centerpiece of economic development in 11 towns
  2. Wyoming and some Maine communities have passed ‘food freedom’ / ‘food sovereignty’ laws in support of local food producers
  3. Kentucky Office of Economic Development has hired a local food coordinator
  4. One research group ( has conducted 107 studies in 36 states since 2003 assessing food and farm economies, lost revenues and economic and health potentials of local food systems
  5. Growing Local Food Systems: A Case Study Series on the Role of Local Governments:
  6. Economic Impacts of Local and Regional Food Systems,




  Survey Results:  Local Food Systems as Economic Development in Mississippi

Responses of OFFICIALS (raw data)

Current development strategies and processes used. (Questions 9, 10, 11) All respondents reported having either a strategy or a work agenda/objectives; most work revolves around the target industries in the given region, e.g. forestry, healthcare, energy/utilities, transportation, aerospace, etc, and are mostly tied into the state’s economic agenda and target industries.

Regarding the process that determines strategy or work objectives: at the state level, the governor sets priorities using input from various groups and state agencies; at the regional and local levels, it is typically boards of directors who approve work plans/strategies.  Public input is received primarily through elected officials and local/regional boards; two public entities reported holding some form of listening sessions to take public input. 

Regarding the use of “consultants, academic resources or other sources of input”, all respondents reported using such resources except two public authorities that use in-house staff.

Comments included:

  1. what we are is what we have to sell (in this case wood industries)
  2. are we building the economy; what is the return on our investment
  3. we (a county) are industrial development, local food is more appropriate to the city’s economic development or the Chamber of Commerce
  4. targeted industries must be within MDA goals
  5. public input is not gathered, it’s not a high factor but it could be
  6. we talk with the legislature, do research, hold formal hearings with organizations
  7. we seek consultant or university help on an as needed basis
  8. we use TVA’s target market specialists and professional services, especially for site development
  9. specific strategies are proprietary; policies on website (private development organization)


Food as economic opportunity. (Questions 12, 13) Ten out of twelve respondents saw the 90% imported food valued at 2.3 billion annually as an economic opportunity for Mississippi; two respondents related this question directly to their roles as industrial developers and did not see food as economic activity because 1) agriculture sectors are in decline (catfish, chemicals, feed) and 2) supports for farmers and (large scale) food processing are not in place.   Comments:

  1. I’m surprised by the 90% and $6.5 billion imported food figures
  2. I’ve wondered about local food and how it can be done
  3. yes, it is an opportunity and farming is picking up in our area
  4. local food is more ‘boutique’ activity for the local level (Chambers, Mainstreet, city-level)
  5. (we have) no way to help farmers except small business loans; having no state program hurts ability of local economic developers to help
  6. don’t oversell the idea, it will crash and burn

Regarding local food as opportunity at the community level, six respondents saw opportunity; three were not sure because: the devil is in the details, local food will (have to) grow with increasing levels of education and income, and it takes an educated population to change lifestyles and buy local.

Workforce/job creation. (Questions 14, 15)  Officials’ responses were both positive and negative when asked if local food fits the state’s workforce:

  1. (local food) fits well, issue is how to scale up impact to be recognized by developers
  2. (local food represents) opportunities for youth, especially in vocational programs
  3. start early connecting youth to agriculture
  4. (local food) provides non-traditional career track needed by 30% of young people
  5. trainability is there, not much different from industrial training
  6. farm work ethic is gone, youth don’t want to work in the fields
  7. our newest employer just wanted to know if our workers can pass a drug test
  8. how well can local food compete with industrial sectors?
  9. transfer payments totaling $12.40/hr are above minimum wage and a disincentive
  10. job creation formulas of economic development make local food jobs difficult to capture
  11. an emphasis for the region is on re-engaging adult learners and disconnected youth, which could align well with LFS employment
  12. data on local food at the local level is needed to catch attention (national data not so influential
  13. An emphasis for (our) region is on re-engaging adult learners and disconnected youth, which could align well with LFS employment
  14. possibly, if (local food is) well run and sustained

Regarding giving support to small food producers the way support is given to business and industry, 8 officials were positive, 4 said no, 1 said it depends on scale.  Comments included:

  1. yes, in smaller communities, but in larger communities they are expected to focus on large scale industry
  2. economic developers cannot do ‘every good thing’, but if local food is taken as a strategy this helps
  3. no, we do not have agricultural expertise
  4. MDAC is responsible for farmer support
  5. yes, this could be a jumpstart to success, open students’ minds to opportunities, get SBA-type loans, use small business development
  6. yes, if money and expertise are available

Regarding the presence of many small producers in local food, capturing job creation figures does present a problem said 11 out of 12 respondents; no said 1.  Comments:

  1. not an issue because it is a staff role to (do assessments) for future and existing B&I
  2. LFS cannot deliver the ‘package of benefits’, including jobs, that is expected (of us)
  3. dispersed workforce is a challenge but also a strength
  4. will take an organized niche network to (make jobs in local food) work

Constraints on LRFS Development. (Question 16, multiple parts)  Officials were asked to decide what the role of economic developers would be with respect to ten constraints or challenges to development of local food systems; choices were lead, collaborate or not appropriate.

  1. Market studies: 2 said not appropriate, 9 said collaborate
  2. Food system studies: 2 said not appropriate, 10 said collaborate
  3. Farmer training in sustainable methods (to capture price premiums): 4 said not appropriate, 5 said collaborate, 3 said lead, 1 said collaborate or lead. Comment: economic development gets people together, it does not solve problems (of this type).
  4. Youth engagement: 3 said not appropriate, 6 said collaborate, l said lead. Comments included that such belongs with MDAC, Community Colleges, Extension and/or local leadership rather than economic developers.
  5. Farmland retention: 10 said not appropriate, 2 said collaborate, 1 said depends on where land is located, if near industry then no. Another said a valid need but requires political process and state-level attention
  6. Encouragement of private, community investment: 1 said not appropriate, 10 said collaborate, 1 said lead. Comments:
    1. we have a revolving loan fund already in place
    2. better for local food support to flow through the regional authority/PDDs to prevent political interference at local level
    3. we have done this with a food processor
    4. we issue grants to cities and counties
    5. economic developers promote this type of assistance
  7. Land-use planning and tax incentives: 7 said not appropriate, 6 said collaborate, 1 said collaborate and lead. Comments:
    1. yes, absolutely
    2. definitely
    3. could take an interest
  8. Food safety impact study: 8 said not appropriate, 4 said collaborate. Comments:
    1. MDAC and MDOH should do
    2. necessary but best path may not be via economic developers
    3. economic development is a facilitator, not the problem solver
  9. Food safety regulation changes/work with state agencies: 8 said not appropriate, 3 said collaborate, 1 said lead. Comments:
    1. if you get economic developers (to take on) local food you’ll get them for everything, it’ll be ‘down the rabbit hole’
    2. yes if demand exists, we have done this for industry
  10. Training in whole-farm, sustainable methods: 7 said not appropriate, 4 said collaborate, 1 said lead. Comments:
    1. we could lead at the high school level but not above
    2. industry people (should do) this, not economic developers
  11. Scholarship fund for apprentices to study on sustainable farms here or elsewhere: 9 said not appropriate, 2 said collaborate
    1. so many things economic developers have to do; local food must have quantifiable capacity to pull ED into the process
    2. establishing quality (in the LF effort) would bring interest
    3. could encourage but not develop

Potential contributions of local food. (Questions 17-20)  Officials were asked four questions related to disease/health costs and workforce wellness/productivity, how these affect business and industry’s (B&I) location selection, and how existing B&I might see local food systems development.

  1. B&I consideration of disease data and health costs. 6 respondents said B&I do not ask about these things; 5 expect B&I to become more interested in health issues or have concerns of their own; 1 said not aware of extent.  Comments:
    1. industry does not ask these questions
    2. have not even heard a discussion about it
    3. exercise infrastructure, yes, but rarely ever healthy living (eating); they don’t talk about obesity
    4. health concerns are moving up the list of community attributes but not close to the top yet; they come into play after a community lands on the finalist list; site, workforce, power, etc come first
    5. this information is looked at aside from what they ask us, but they do care about productivity and a ‘show-up’ workforce
    6. this fits into quality of life issues overall; it is a metric but not sure of its weight
    7. TVA has designation of “Sustainable City” that includes recycling, buying green, renewable energy, and healthy community initiatives
    8. we are concerned about this
  2. Healthy local food as attraction factor to B&I. 10 respondents said yes; 1 said it depends; 1 said no. Comments:
    1. depends on company’s leadership team
    2. beginning to see green businesses ask about “sustainable communities”
    3. ball has already started rolling; high tech companies already have this in their RFIs (requests for information)
    4. new, emerging industries like high tech and green industries are more likely to care… it’s not all bottom line anymore
  3. Existing B&I support for local food efforts. 3 officials were not sure how existing B&I would respond to a ‘vigorous state-led effort’ to create more local food; 5 thought they would be; 2 said they are not interested in this.  Comments:
    1. MMA would lead on this but it’s not on their radar at this time
    2. companies are the families that make up a community (i.e. families would want healthy food)
    3. we would love this and would be on board if MDA took the lead
  4. Which existing B&I are most ready to support local food. 5 respondents did not specify an industry; others commented:
    1. none in our area, we do not have ‘new generation’ employers such as Toyota and Nissan; most of our employers outsource portions of their work which makes workforce health not their responsibility
    2. health insurance and healthcare providers such as hospital
    3. food retailers and wholesalers, health food stores
    4. our area has kept its locally-owned business base and would be more interested in local food for this reason
    5. Toyota yes, furniture no

 Sustainable methods and consumer demand. (Questions 21, 22)  Officials were given a description of how small and moderate farm size fits well with sustainable methods and consumer concerns around food quality.

  1. All respondents felt method and scale are outside the purview of economic development. Comments included:
    1. connecting farmers to markets is more what economic developers do, we’re not so involved in methods
    2. have the general food conversation first, then get into organic and sustainable methods as a second part to the conversation
    3. economics come firs
  2. Would promoting farmers who are successful with sustainable methods (in MS where this is thought hard to do) be an appropriate activity for economic developers? 7 respondents said yes, 2 said possibly, 2 said no.  Comments:
    1. this is quality of life issue, not development
    2. we could spread the message of success if there are (outside) funds available

 LRFS/LFS as development strategy. (Questions 23-25)

  1. If local and sustainable food proves important to health solutions, how would this impact local food as an economic strategy? 6 said it would not affect their strategy work; 2 said it would, 3 said it depends. Comments:
    1. not at the local level, possibly state
    2. market projections are huge in development but local food does not move in the same macro way; putting local food with manufacturing creates ‘apples with oranges’; the question is how does local food scale up to be something?
    3. (health solutions) could affect (local food being taken as a strategy) depending upon the impact on jobs
    4. (local food and health solutions are) important especially in working with healthcare providers; push for this type of good growth, especially with a statewide policy
    5. this would not affect us but it would help get people interested
  2. At what level or levels would pursuit of local food as strategy be most successful? Responses were mixed:  3 said local, 4 said state, 2 said depends on activity, 1 said regional, 1 said from both top and bottom.  Comments:
    1. local looks to MDA and governor and legislature
    2. states with higher education and incomes will have more success with local food, not here
    3. local food needs key leadership at top levels to support it
    4. bottom up with business incubation, emphasis on small business, diversify economy, work with Mainstreet on farmers markets
    5. different levels depending on activity
  3. Can you see local food being considered or even adopted as a development strategy in your agency at some point? 9 said yes, 2 said possibly, 2 said no.  Comments:
    1. not now, maybe later; get the governor interested
    2. yes, especially with how rural some counties are
    3. yes, we encourage it but it fits better with Chambers and community improvement
    4. yes, if demanded
    5. yes, especially with how rural some counties are
  4. How will Mississippi’s economic development community respond to local food as a development strategy? 5 said positively, 4 said either tepid, tough sell, or mixed response, 3 said it depends and/or requires education
    1. to be honest, everyone is still chasing industry; we need more education on local food
    2. (we’re) still hung up on factories but it could be encouraged
    3. (the development community) will want to know how local food impacts them; national data does not influence them, need in-state data
    4. I think people (development community) will be floored by the data (90% imported)
    5. Local food data should be presented to MEDC, MML, MAS, PDDs

What suggestions can you give us for presenting LFS as strategy to economic development officials? (Question 26) 

  1. talk to MEC, MEDC, MDA (state-wide agencies)
  2. you need an audience
  3. local food needs to be with MDAC; MDA will have some involvement but will hand off to MDAC
  4. get larger economic development groups on board (Tupelo, Gulfport, Jackson); get interview with MDA
  5. use straightforward data (two responses)
  6. stress relationship to goals, especially job creation
  7. remember JOBS!
  8. relate to goals
  9. include joint session of agriculture committees (in state legislature)
  10. use examples of strong initiatives by others where local food is successful
  11. sell the concept to volunteer leaders in Chambers and on economic development boards
  12. lists of growers by region and locale would be helpful
  13. show the value of the untapped market
  14. present to schools


Responses of SUPPORTERS   (raw data)

  1. Services to economic developers.  (Questions 9-11)  Mississippi universities offer largely free services to communities and development authorities in support of the economic development process including: economic analyses, small business development, strategic planning, and leadership development.  Services are by client request.  Three academic supporters reported assisting with strategy development, mostly at the local and regional levels. There is one degreed program with a certification in economic development in the state. 
  2. Food imports as economic opportunity.  (Questions 12, 13)  All respondents agreed that 90% imported food offers economic opportunity.  Comments:
    1. (local food) is only secondary development such as agri-tourism
    2. (local food) is especially appropriate for small communities with land resources and few development options 
  3. Workforce/job creation.  (Questions 14, 15)  Supporters agreed that local food fits the state’s workforce, one suggesting that new and/or revived skills sets might be needed such as from-scratch cooking and custom meat cutting.  Job creation, the success by which the work of economic developers is measured, needs to be considered; LFS metrics are needed to help capture the dispersed nature of local food producers.  One supporter suggested that such metrics would be easier to capture if LFS is taken as a strategy and local officials are engaged.
  4. Constraints on LRFS Development.  (Question 16, multiple parts)  Supporters were asked to decide what the role of economic developers would be with respect to ten constraints or challenges to development of local food systems; choices were collaborate, lead or not appropriate.
    1. Market studies: collaborate or lead
    2. Food distribution system studies: collaborate
    3. Farmer training (re price premiums for sustainably produced foods): mixed views from collaborate to not appropriate; one university commented that USDA support to socially disadvantaged farmers does not focus on organic or sustainable methods.
    4. Youth engagement: all agreed that collaboration by economic developers would be appropriate
    5. Farmland retention: collaboration appropriate although one supporter noted this as ‘counter-intuitive’ to economic developers who normally seek land for industrial development.
    6. Encouragement of private, community investment: collaboration; one supporter suggested leading because this is ‘the biggest issue for farmers’.
    7. Land-use planning and tax incentives: mixed views, some thought collaborate, one considered it inappropriate.
    8. Food safety: despite saying that a study to determine how Mississippi farmers are being affected by regulations is very needed information and that making regulations appropriate to small scale producers is important for economic developers to understand ‘up-front, not later’, neither the study nor changing regulations were considered appropriate work for economic developers..
    9. Training in whole-farm, sustainable methods: collaborate
    10. Scholarship fund for apprentices to study on sustainable farms here or elsewhere: collaborate.  One supporter commented on the historically unequal division of resources to small farmer efforts. 
  5. Potential contributions of LFS:  (Questions 17-20) Supporters were asked four questions related to disease/health costs and workforce wellness/productivity and how these affect business and industry’s (B&I) location selection, and how existing B&I might see local food systems development.
    1. LFS and health: disease data and health costs are not high on the list of location criteria for B&I (3 on a scale of 10).  Health is more a quality of life issue with ‘vibrant supplies of locally produced foods’ a uniqueness factor coming into play once a community becomes a semi-finalist for location.
    2. LFS and workforce productivity:  two salient comments:
      1. resource holders need to know more about food and health impacts’
      2. small business bears more costs of unhealthy workers because they are not incentivized like large companies are
    3. Existing B&I support for LFS.  Supporters’ views differed from two who said yes, one not much, one not sure, and one who felt it would be well received because healthcare costs are rising so, especially if local food is demonstrated to have positive health outcomes.
    4. Existing B&I most ready to support LFS.  Tourism, farmers markets, businesses with related interests (e.g. soil enhancers), chambers of commerce.
  1. Sustainable methods and consumer demand.  (Question 21, 22)  Supporters generally agreed that these are outside the purview of economic development except for those interested in LFS.  Economic developers would need more information on these topics for them to be engaged.  However, when asked if promoting the success of sustainable growers within a hot, humid state where many believe organic methods cannot be successful, supporters agreed that this would be an appropriate economic development activity, especially to promote a ‘niche market’; but they disagreed on whether method or consumer demand are appropriate considerations in strategy development.

6.  LRFS/LFS as development strategy.  (Questions 23-25)  How did supporters view LFS’s potential as economic development strategy in Mississippi?

    1. If demand for local and sustainable food is linked to important health solutions:
      1. proven link would be impactful
      2. local food would become part of the community’s asset base’
      3. if impacts on existing strategic sectors can be shown then economic developers would buy into local food
      4. good data is essential if economic developers are to invest in any strateg
    2. At what level should LFS be pursued as economic development strategy?  Opinions varied from all levels, to regional and local levels, to state level.
    3. Appropriate to encourage LFS as strategy in your (supporter’s) role?  All interviewees said yes.
    4. How will Mississippi’s economic development community respond to LFS as a development strategy?  Opinions varied:
      1. not significantly
      2. depends on how presented
      3. should interest 

7. What suggestions can you give us for presenting to economic development officials?  Comments:

    1. speak economic developers’ language
    2. use economic data
    3. focus on collaboration
    4. don’t silo local food into one agency
    5. show relevance to other economic sectors

Two non-academic, non-governmental supporters were also interviewed:

  1. Financial Institution providing credit union and banking services with 20 branch locations in 14 cities and 4 states (MS, TN, AL, AR); receives funding from U.S. Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institution Fund, including in support of healthy food initiatives.  The institution recognizes its potential for making loans to local food enterprises and its policy institute provides analytics that include food deserts.  It recognizes consumer demand for sustainably grown but does not take an active role regarding growing methods at this time.
  2. Food Hub in central Mississippi is an emerging operation working with in-state farmers to aggregate, cool, package and distribute produce; it will eventually add small-scale processing.  Salient points:
    1. number of farmers interested in selling to the hub has been surprisingly stronger than expected
    2. challenges: 1) coordination within the food system hinders farmers knowing what to grow and how, and 2) finding ways to work with the existing distribution system where wholesalers are already heavily invested in moving produce from distant places
    3. needs:  1) policies to incentivize ‘buying local’ which would help equalize prices between distant produce and local, and 2) metrics to determine a) the impact of local food on local economies to help officials understand the impact and importance of food hub activity, and b) mapping and forecasting the volume and timing of produce in various parts of the state
    4. growing methods: although Mississippi buyers are not asking for organic produce at this time, the food hub plans to create website connection between farmers and consumers with nutritional content, recipes, etc
    5. buyer priorities: for grocers: price, appearance, quality/flavor and local; for restaurants: quality/flavor, local, price and appearance
    6. food safety regulations are taken as is and planned for in the distribution facility; hygiene at farm level may be more an issue because there is some push back from farmers re food safety regulations which they feel are too costly and intrusive

All interviewees – officials and supporters – agreed to follow-up phone calls in July to tell what may have happened in the intervening months regarding discussions or activity on LFS as strategy in their organizations.  

Local Entities Online Survey

An eight-question survey of 61 local development entities received 21 responses, a 34% response rate.  Almost 62% of the respondents represented Chambers of Commerce which have a long history in the state and are generally responsible for local retail development. The next highest representation was from smaller county or city local economic development foundations or other ED agencies. Main Street programs constituted about 15% of the respondents. Findings:

  1. None of the agencies reported that support for food-related activity was a primary part of their strategy. However, 86% indicated that it was a small or growing part of their strategy.
  2. Ninety percent of respondents said that within the last five years their residents have shown interest in having more locally grown and/or locally processed food easily available in the community.
  3. If involved at all in local food work, respondents noted farmers markets with some farm-to-table programs and agri-tourism. Five out of the 21 organizations promoted local foods as part of a healthy community strategy.
  4. Of 19 responders, 57% indicated they either have local food system development as part of their strategy or are working on it; regarding future strategies, 43% indicated they did not see the development of a local food system as a strategy or part of their work plan in the foreseeable future.




U.S. Demand for Local, Organic, Grass-fed


  1. “Local” does not yet have an official definition or labeling standards but work is proceeding in that direction per USDA’s Secretary Vilsack in Spring 2016.  An A.T. Kearney 2015 survey found 96% of Americans would consider ‘local’ as within 100 miles; Kroger defines ‘local’ as within 400 miles.
  2.  Shopping for Local Foods in the U.S. estimates that local foods generated $12 billion in sales in 2015; USDA puts this figure at 11.7 billion; currently only 2% of total retail sales, local food is projected to reach $20 billion in 2019.
  3. Farmers markets: 8,144 in 2013 (up 180% since 2006)
  4. Farm-to-school is an important player in the local food market; in 2013-14 schools sourced half a billion dollars from local growers, an increase of 55% in two years; 42% of America’s school districts (42,587 schools) report participation; the Southeast had the greatest percentage of respondents planning to participate in the future (2015 Farm to School Census)
  5. National Restaurant Association’s top food trend for 2016 is locally sourced meats and seafood; third is local produce. Others in top-10: hyper-local sourcing, natural ingredients, environmental sustainability, and new cuts of meat.
  6. NE Iowa’s Food and Fitness Initiative grew local food sales from under $10,000 in 2006 to over 2 million in 2010.
  7. Central Corridor Anchor Partnership, an alliance of seven medical facilities and nine area colleges, is working to keep more of their combined $25 million in annual food expenditures within the Twin Cities area.
  8. Venture capital is flowing all along the food chain from farmers and tech companies to home cooks: $2.06 billion invested in the first half of 2015 was nearly as much as the $2.36 billion total for 2014. Entrepreneur, Nov 2015.
  9. In April 2016, USDA launched its first-ever Local Food Marketing Practices survey for data collection on 2015 local sales.
  10. “Major packaged-food companies lost $4 billion in market share alone last year (2014), as shoppers swerved to fresh and organic alternatives.” Fortune, May 21, 2015 (


  1. ‘Certified organic’ refers to methods specified in USDA’s organic standards which generally regulate what synthetic and non-synthetic substances can be used in fresh and processed foods (crops and livestock), fiber production and in health and beauty products. See also:
  2. USDA's 2015 Certified Organic Survey ( shows 12,818 certified organic farms sold a total of $6.2 billion (farm gate value, not retail) in organic products in 2015, up 13 percent from $5.5 billion in 2014.  The selection of certified organic products sold was diverse; the top five categories were: 
    1. Milk, $1.2 billion, up 8.4 percent from $1.1 billion in 2014.
    2. Eggs, $732 million, up 74.5 percent from $420 million in 2014.
    3. Broiler chickens, $420 million, up 13.1 percent from $371 million in 2014.
    4. Apples, $302 million, up 20 percent from $251 million in 2014.
    5. Lettuce, $262 million, down less than 1 percent from $264 million in 2014
  3. USDA-ERS studied retail price premiums for 17 organic foods between 2004 and 2010. Findings included: 1) the market share of all products steadily increased, 2) price premiums fluctuated except for the steady increase in organic yogurt, and 3) eggs and dairy had the highest premiums in 2010 with 52% for dairy, 82% for eggs.
  4. A review of 225 organic ‘hotspots’ in the U.S. found that organic activity boosted median household incomes by an average of $2000 and improved poverty indicators. It also found that knowledge transfer and community are important to creating organic hotspots.
  5. USDA-AMS reported in 2016 an increase from 19,474 certified organic farms to 21,781in one year in the U.S.
  6. Organic food sales in 2015 rose to $40 billion (retail value), a jump of 11 percent compared to a 3 percent growth rate for the overall food market. See more at:
  7. USDA-AMS introduced “Organic Market News Summary” in April 2016, a weekly national report to highlight some of the 200 different organic commodities.
  8. 2014 Gallup poll reported 45% of consumers seek out organic foods with more than half of 18- to 29-year-old Americans actively trying to include organic food.
  9. 93% of organic sales occur in 20,000 natural food stores and 3 out of 4 conventional groceries
  10. The first ‘certified organic’ fast food chain opened in San Francisco in November 2015 with plans to open 25 more stores in 2016.
  11. Costco CEO told investors in early 2016 “We cannot get enough organics …”.


  1. Grass-fed beef (GFB) is 6-7% of total beef sales; projected to be 30% in 5-8 years
  2. $2.5 billion in GFB sales in 2014, of which $2.0 billion was imported
  3. 100+ growers in 1998 has expanded to 3500 today
  4. Carl Jr and Hardee’s offer a GFB/’all natural’ option; SYSCO has entered a multi-million dollar GFB purchasing contract.




Consumer Choice: Annotated Bibliography of Studies Referencing Local, Organic and Grass-fed


Annunziata, Azzura. 2016. “Organic Farming and Sustainability in Food Choices: An Analysis of Consumer Preference in Southern Italy. Agriculture and Agricultural Science Procedia. 8(1): 192-200.  This research uses 2015 cross-sectional data collected via a web-based survey in Southern Italy, which experienced recent issues with pollution and food safety, leading consumers to distrust food production. Findings indicate that consumers prefer organic foods because they are perceived to be fresh, environmentally friendly and support the local economy. However, consumers tend to prefer health and quality attributes more than environmental or ethical concerns.

Bellows, Anne C., Gabriela Alcaraz V., and William K. Hallman. 2010. “Gender and food, a study of attitudes in the USA towards organic, local, U.S. grown and GM- free foods.” Appetite. 55: 540-550.  This research examines food choices of consumers, comparing attitudes towards certain food attributes, such as locality of the food and organic. This study uses the 2003 Survey of American consumers, which used proportional probability random digital dialing, resulting in a sample of 1202 respondents.  However, this research focuses on one aspect of the survey, limiting the sub-sample size to 601. Results indicate that consumers value health (particularly allergic foods), convenience and ease of food preparation, U.S. origin, and vitamin content as the most relevant factors when making food choices. Furthermore, women tend to place greater importance on food attributes. U.S consumers place a greater importance of U.S. food products, GM-free foods, locally grown and then organic foods. Consumers are also most concerned with food being natural, followed by perceived health benefits, and then convenience.

De Marchi, Elisa, Vincenzina Caputo, Rodolfo M. Nayga Jr., Alessandro Banterle. 2016. “Time preferences and food choices: Evidence from a choice experiment.” Food Policy. 62: 99-109.  This research uses a random online survey of US consumers, over the age of 18, in 2015 to examine food choices of individuals who had different time preferences. Findings indicate that consumers who are more future oriented are willing to pay more for organic, and these consumers are interested in both environmental and health attributes of food. However, consumers who are more focused on the present and gratification tend to be less interested in organics, including the health and calorie information.

Goetzke, Beate, Sina Nitzko, and Achim Spiller. 2014. “Consumption of organic and functional food. A matter of well-being and health.” Appetite. 77C: 94-103.   This study uses a Perceived Wellness Model to analyze the factors that influence consumption of organic and functional foods together. Functional foods are those foods that are enriched for nutritional/health purposes. This research utilizes a survey of 555 German consumers who were randomly selected by an online provider, attempting to find a nationally representative sample of Germans. Findings suggest that consumers who were more concerned with healthy living, use alternative medication and spirituality were more likely to also purchase organic foods. Cognitive-emotional well-being tends to play a greater role in the consumption of functional food over organic foods. However, social dedication is associated with the consumption of functional and organic foods. The authors predict that because organic food consumers are more concerned with environmental concerns, that altruism will be higher for those who purchase organic foods. Whereas, the results indicate that the desire of sociability with others is more related to the consumption of functional foods.

Gwin, Lauren, Catherine A. Durham, Jason D. Miller, and Ann Colonna. 2012. “Understanding Markets for Grass-Fed Beef: Taste, Price, and Purchase Preferences.” Journal of Food Distribution Research. 43 (2): 91-111.   This research examines consumers taste preferences and willingness to pay for grass-fed local beef versus conventional grain-fed beef. This research uses a sensory consumer test of Portland, Oregon beef eaters. There was a slight, but insignificant preference for grass fed beef. Consumers were also interested in buying in bulk. Using a conjoint analysis, the researchers find that consumers would pay more for local grass fed beef in comparison to conventional grain-fed beef. Last, consumers expressed more concern about the production and nutritional qualities, and attitudinal factors also mattered.

Hasselbach, Johanna. 2015. “Consumer Heterogeneity in the Willingness to Pay for Local and Organic Food.” Journal of Food Products Marketing. 21(6): 608-625.   This research examines 720 Germans’ choices on organic and local foods using face- to-face interviews in 2012. The sample was limited to those who had at least purchased organic products before. This research indicates that consumers are more concerned with their foods being from local sources, over organic foods. German consumers also indicated that they prefer lower prices, organic certified labeling, and a national well-known brand. However, some consumers indicated that there was some distrust with the Bavarian government label (in the context of a scandal).

 Hasselbach, Johanna and Jutta Roosen. 2015. “Motivations behind Preferences for Local or Organic Food.” Journal of International Consumer Marketing. 27 (4): 295-306.   This research uses a sample of 720 German organic consumers to examine consumer preferences for organic versus local food. Results indicate that 65% of the sample indicated that they consider the localness of food often or always. Consumers indicated that short transportation distances was cited most often as an advantage of local foods (54.9%), being environmentally-friendly was cited by 17.9% of respondents, and the freshness of the product was cited by 20.5% of the consumers.  23.1% of consumers indicated that organic foods were more important than localness, while 34.6% of consumers preferred localness over organic, and 42.4% of respondents were indifferent to both food systems (but could include those who were interested in localness and organic products equally). Finally, the researchers found consumers’ motives for food choices are health, natural content, price, animal welfare, and appeal, all of which were close in importance to one another. Local food consumers were more concerned with price and appeal, whereas organic food consumers were more concerned with animal welfare and the natural content of the food.

 McCluskey, Jill J., Thomas I. Wahl, Quan Li, and Philip R Wandschneider. 2005. “U.S. Grass-Fed Beef: Marketing Health Benefits.” Journal of Food Distribution Research. 36(3): 1-8.

This research uses conjoint analysis to examine consumers’ choices when purchasing grass-fed beef in Spokane, Washington. Although respondents were primed only with the health information of grass-fed beef (as opposed to being primed with potential health effects of both grass-fed and grain-fed beef) and the study used a limited sample size, respondents indicated that they were willing to pay more for grass-fed beef. Furthermore, respondents were concerned with the caloric and fat content of the beef.

Mennecke, B.W., A.M. Townsend, D.J. Hayes, and S.M. Lonergan. 2007.  “A study of the factors that influence consumer attitudes toward beef products using the conjoint market analysis tool.”   American Society of Animal Science. 85: 2639–2659.   This research uses conjoint analysis to study consumers’ preferences of beef, including traceability, use of hormones, and animal welfare. Findings indicate that consumers’ prefer beef that is local or at least regional. The researchers find that consumers preferred their beef to eat a mix of grain and grass, followed by grain-fed beef, and finally grass-fed beef.

Schleenbecker, Rosa and Ulrich Hamm. 2013. “Consumers’ perception of organic product characteristics. A Review.”  Appetite. 71: 420-429.  The purpose of this research is to understand consumers’ perceptions of organic foods to serve their needs and wants. A meta-analysis of the 48 studies on consumers’ purchasing and consumption, between 2000 and July 2012 in English and German, were included. Organic and non-organic foods are chosen based on taste, flavor, smell, look, and texture, which are the most important attributes when selecting food, including organic food. However, organic consumers also consider health, environmental concerns, animal welfare, and the protection of small farms and communities. Other important considerations are shelf-life and the quality of the product. Some studies found health to be the biggest concern. Others are concerned about organic foods being natural, or without chemicals, limited human intervention, free of artificial ingredients, and animal welfare.

 Weber, Klaus, Kathryn L Heinze, and Michaela DeSoucey. 2008. “Forage for Thought: Mobilizing Codes in the Movement for Grass-fed Meat and Dairy Products.” Administrative Quarterly. 53: 529-567.   This research argues that grass-fed beef has is in a process of becoming social movement, allowing it to be available on the market. Data comes observations from four farmers’ markets and three farms, archived sources, data from conferences, over 20,000 written comments submitted to the USDA, 20 interviews with small-scale farmers, and 41 semi structured interviews were conducted with activists, ranchers, farmers, consumers, and journalists in 2006 and 2007. Attention of grass-fed has been documented in the media, whereas fifteen years ago grass-fed was a term known to analysts. Approximately 5,000 grass-fed cattle were slaughtered in 2000 (nearly 100% of market grain-fed), and by 2006 this number has reached between 45,000 to 60,000 (nearly 0.2% grass-fed beef in 2006). Furthermore, grass-fed beef went from being cheaper to being sold at a premium. According to the author, the grass-fed beef movement arose as a consequence of new technological developments and scientific discoveries, and in opposition to beef processing that had been dominant since World War II. Data suggests grass-fed has additional meanings. For example, grass-fed beef is also associated with naturalness and sustainability, which is also associated with free-range, a rotational grazing system for cattle, distribution through local markets and cooperatives, and consumers buying products grass-fed beef based on how it’s produced.

 Xue, Hong, Denise Mainville, Wen You and Rodolfo M. Nayga Jr. 2010. “Consumer preferences and willingness to pay for grass-fed beef: Empirical evidence from in-store experiments.” Food Quality and Preference. 21: 857-866.   Survey data indicate consumers who were exposed to nutritional information were willing to pay more for beef and were less concerned with the color of the meat and fat. However, health information, animal welfare and environmental concerns were not significant predictors of paying more for grass fed beef. About half of the sample did have positive health, environmental and animal welfare impressions of grass-fed beef. Results indicate a significant difference in ratings of color, texture, tenderness, and juiciness of conventional and grass-fed beef. A taste test was preformed to compare grass-fed and grain-fed beef preferences. Although this study is not generalizable, findings indicate that consumers prefer grass-fed beef visually, but evaluations of taste and overall characteristics indicate that consumers’ prefer conventional beef. However, past research has been mixed with some studies indicating that grass-fed beef was preferable, and others grain-fed was preferable.



Lifestyle Medicine and Sustainable Agriculture

Lifestyle Medicine and Sustainable Agriculture

Lifestyle-oriented medicine has various names:  integrative, complimentary, holistic, preventive, functional, and environmental among others.  Although treatment approaches vary, most involve some degree of assessment to identify root causes of dysfunction and the personalizing of treatment protocols based on healthy food, clean environments, fitness, stress management, and other lifestyle factors.  Food is central and practitioners not only teach their patients how to use 'food as medicine' but some also discuss how growing and processing methods affect food quality.  Functional Medicine in particular concerns itself with food quality as evidenced by the following annotated bibliography of selected works since 2008 (chronological order):

2008  The Lyme Disease Solution, Kenneth B. Singleton, MD.  “Eat only organic foods if possible. Nonorganic foods contain herbicides and pesticides and other substances that add to the burden of liver detoxification.  Organic foods, by contrast, help to reduce the toxin burden placed on the liver.” (p358)

2009  The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Fixing Your Body First, Mark Hyman MD, Director, Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine.  Food qualities are ranked in priority order of importance: real/unprocessed, clean animal products (pesticide/hormone/antibiotic-free); organic fruits and vegetables, local and in-season (p298).    (see more below)

2009  Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Foods, Catherine Shanahan MD.  “Many small farmers in the US still raise their animals on pasture, offering the customer a healthy alternative to milk produced by grain-fed animals” p66; “Organically grown animals cannot … legally be given antibiotics or other drugs except in case of illness” p134; describing the nutrient value of bone broth and organ meats: “Over time our genes have been programmed with the need and expectation of a steady input of familiar nutrients, some of which can only be derived from the variety meats, which include bones, joints and organs” p138.

2010  Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatments for Dyspraxia, Autism, ADD, Dyslexia, ADHD, Depression, Schizophrenia, Natasha Campbell-McBride MD.  A therapeutic diet approach to mental illness because “… the child’s digestive system holds the key to the child’s mental development” p6; “I suggest getting your eggs from a free-range source… because the hens have much better nutrition, are not fed antibiotics and agricultural chemicals and are exposed to sun and fresh air … (and) are less likely to have Salmonella” p133.

2013  The Digestion Connection: The Simple Plan to Combat Diabetes, Heart Disease, Osteoporosis, Arthritis, Acid Reflex – and More, Elizabeth Lipski PhD, CCN.   “Local produce is the freshest and has the highest level of nutrients … Knowing your farmers, fisheries and what’s available locally helps the food supply become more transparent … Organic foods generally have higher nutrient levels … organic plants create higher levels of antioxidants and protective polyphenols … minerals levels in organically grown apples, pears, potatoes, wheat and wheat berries were twice as high as their commercially grown counterparts … Eating organically produced foods is your only way to avoid the genetically engineered ingredients that are found in about 80 percent of packaged foods … organic food production also protects soils and water … Conventionally (nonorganically) raised animals are routinely given growth-promoting antibiotics and hormones… Eat high-quality protein and high-DPA/DHA seafood, organically and sustainably produced.” p139-40

2014  The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine, Terry Wahls MD.  "What your cells use to fuel the chemistry of life comes directly from what you feed yourself… Cellular nutrition is everything” p26  (See more of Dr. Wahls’ personal story and professional work below)

2014  The Disease Delusion: Conquering the Causes of Chronic Illness for a Healthier, Longer, Happier Life, Jeffrey S. Bland MD.  Includes the role of sustainably grown real foods in Functional Medicine’s approach to treating chronic disease. (see more below)

2015  Effortless Healing: Nine Simple Ways to Sidestep Illness, Shed Excess Weight, and Help Your Body Fix Itself, Joseph Mercola DO.  “Buying your vegetables from a local, organic source … is the ideal way to ensure that they are both fresh and high quality” (69);  “organic pastured eggs … pastured dairy” (105); “organic milk from pastured cows … (has) higher levels of naturally occurring (vitamin A) and (vitamin E)… also a good source of omega-3 fats – a benefit grain-fed milk doesn’t share.” (243)

2015  The Autoimmune Solution: Prevent and Reverse the Full Spectrum of Inflammatory Symptoms and Diseases, Amy Myers, MD.  Dr. Myers is founder and medical director of Austin UltraHealth, a center for functional medicine. Recipes specify organic, free-range, pasture-raised, and wild caught.  GMOs are “a new kind of health challenge.” (p114); “leaky gut list of foods” includes GMOs (p77); “toxic foods to toss list” includes GMOs (p182); advises consumer action to avoid GMOs (p324-8); “a lot of evidence to suggest genetically modified foods are associated with allergies, autism, ADD/ADHD, leaky gut, and digestive illnesses” (p325); resources list related to GMOs (p352).

2015  Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain – For Life, David Perlmutter MD.   “… humans are at the top of the food chain…(which) means we’re exposed to larger amounts of toxic substances through … bioaccumulation. … certain kinds of fish have concentrations of chemicals … livestock eat grains sprayed with pesticides … consuming these products can expose you to chemicals used along the entire agricultural chain”; regarding herbicide-laden GMO foods: “it’s estimated that by 2017 farmers will apply … 1.35 million metric (pounds) of glyphosate to their crops … when you chart the incidence of celiac (disease) and the levels of glyphosate applied to wheat over the past 25 years, a stunning parallel pattern emerges; MIT research scientists ... describe how residual glyphosate changes the composition of gut bacteria and wreaks havoc on human physiology; … clean up your environment and make gut-friendly choices – organic, grass-fed whenever possible, high-quality fats and low-carb foods free of toxic ingredients. That’s the whole point of my brain maker rehab program…” p172-6

2016 Eat Fat, Get Thin: Why the Fat We Eat is the Key to Sustained Weight Loss and Vibrant Health, Mark Hyman MD, Director, Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. (See more below)

2016  A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal their Bodies to Reclaim Their Minds, Kelly Brogan MD (psychiatry)  Food is more than fuel and building blocks, it is “a coevolutionary tool for epigenetic expression… food literally talks to your cells … and that results in how your DNA functions. … my food plan minimizes modern highly processed foods containing gluten and dairy that trigger an unwanted immune response.  It also increases vitally important fats needed for brain health and blood sugar stability and puts a premium on the sourcing (emphasis added) of food – eliminating GMOs and carcinogenic, endocrine-disrupting pesticides.”  (p142) “Dietary change is a powerful if not the most powerful means of beneficially affecting the microbiome and gut-brain signaling … a diet marked by processed vegetable fats, sugar, preservatives, and a battery of other chemicals may be setting us up for the development of chronic inflammation…” (p143)  Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce (; reference to glyphosate-free foods, pastured animal products and wild fish, pastured eggs, and “don’t avoid or restrict natural fats” (p154); raw dairy (p159); grass-fed beef “not all saturated fat, and importance of dietary fat for vitamins D, A, K and E. (p162)

2016  Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients that Fuel Brainpower, Boost Weight Loss, and Transform Your Health, Drew Ramsey MD, Psychiatrist and assistant professor Columbia University teaching brain nutrition. Proponent of nutrition-based approach in clinical treatment, especially for anxiety and depression; “By eating seasonally and getting more food from a local farmers’ market, you can eat organic foods without breaking the bank.  Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for both amazing flavor and exposure to new vegetables. … Use the Environmental Working Groups list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen as a guide to making informed decisions about produce, you can always ask your local farmer (if possible) about their produce, as many small farms aren’t officially certified organic but still grow food free of pesticides.” (p94-5); regarding cooking fats – “This is the place to avoid anything artificial. … Organic oils and fats are important to consider.” (p96); “Using grass-fed beef means more nutrients (carotenoids, vitamin E, and conjugated linoleic acid), fewer calories, and true beef flavor.  Being leaner meat, grass-fed cuts can overcook easily…” (p215)

Functional Medicine

 Since its American inception in the early 1990’s, Functional Medicine has been attracting physicians and healthcare consumers who seek alternatives to conventional medicine.  In 2014 the Cleveland Clinic became the first academic medical institution to open a Center for Functional Medicine.

The Institute for Functional Medicine writes on its website: “Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century.  Functional Medicine is a different approach, with methodology and tools that are specifically designed to prevent and treat chronic diseases.

Functional physicians – often working with integrative nutritionists – include among their concerns the impact of food quality and environmental exposures on disease states.  Their success in treating and reversing chronic disease is important to follow for what the impact will be on demand for sustainably produced foods.


Three Leading Functional Medicine Physicians

Jeffrey Bland, MD     (The Disease Delusion, 2015)

“It isn’t our genes that determine our life span and life’s health, but rather how we communicate with our genes,” writes Dr. Bland in The Disease Delusion.  Co-founder of the Functional Medicine Institute in 1991, he is today known as the father of Functional Medicine.

Bland details the ways in which foods, chemicals and other factors influence seven core physiological processes: assimilation and elimination, detoxification, defense, cellular communications, cellular transport, energy and structure.  He details also how genes are selectively impacted, setting the stage for a ‘lifestyle medicine’ approach.

Functional Medicine research in the 2000’s led to understanding how cellular function and gene expression are selectively influenced, including by phytonutrients, the chemicals plants make for protection against hostile elements (pests, mold, etc) and that give fruits and vegetables their color, fragrance and taste.

“The fact that the phytonutrients in our food speak to our genes more gently and quietly (than drugs), unraveling the needed information and parceling it out to the genes at different locations around the regulatory network, provides the stability of cellular function we equate with resilience – and therefore with good health.” p181

How a food is grown and processed affects its phytonutrient content. “Processed foods have very few phytonutrients … organic fruits and vegetables have a higher phytonutrient index than their nonorganic equivalents” because, Bland contends, “an organic fruit or vegetable has to work harder to defend itself from the stress of its environment” than conventionally grown plants protected with chemical inputs.  p183

“Eat organic foods as much as possible…” p272.

Dr. Bland is Chairman Emeritus, Institute for Functional Medicine, and founder/president of the Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute, teaching consumers and health professionals the principles of a medical approach that focuses on the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases through healthy foods, clean environments and lifestyle.   


Terry Wahls, MD      (The Wahls Protocol, 2014)

Dr. Wahls, a competitive athlete and marathoner, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000.  That same year she became an assistant professor at the University of Iowa and chief of primary care at the VA hospital. By 2007, although still a practicing clinician, she spent most of her time lying in a zero-gravity wheelchair. She was 52 years old.

She did not put much stock in ‘fringe’ medical practices, but in 2002 took the advice of her neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic and checked out a website that reported success in using diet to help MS.

From there her journey evolved through drug therapies, a Paleo diet, carefully selected nutritional supplements chosen from research on MS… and she halted the progression of her disease.

Reversal came when she took her list of supplements and went in search of real food sources; she also continued to work on identifying and removing toxins from environmental exposures.  Writes Dr. Wahls:   “… we can’t have optimal health by relying only on vitamins and nutritional supplements on top of our usual diets.  Real foods contain all the secrets we don’t yet understand… real foods (used) in very particular ways…” (p35).

“After just three months practicing the new diet, gradually increasing my e-stim exercises, and practicing daily meditation and a simple self-massage, I could walk between exam rooms using just one cane.  After six months I could walk throughout the entire hospital without a cane.”

Interviewed in 2015 for the introduction to Rethinking Women’s Health Dr. Wahls’ stated:  “I have been talking food and lifestyle with my clinics for nearly seven years, and in that seven years it has become much more common for patients to tell me about someone they know who has changed his or her diet and experienced marked health benefits. … … My colleagues are noticing that people in this community are adopting The Wahls Protocol and reporting decreased symptoms in a wide variety of diseases. … our diet and lifestyle workshops have become one of the first recommendations for our pain clinics that are trying to get people off of narcotics. … We are also launching a rheumatoid arthritis study, and another study for fibromyalgia.  … the (determined) lay person can just as easily stay as current as I am on the latest research on the diseases that matter to him or her. … That is very powerful. This new reality will drive change at an extraordinary rate. … For the majority of chronic illnesses that we face, (diet and lifestyle) will probably include a steady reversal of your disease state.”

Dr. Wahls is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa and Director of the Therapeutic Lifestyle Clinic at the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Hospital where she teaches medical students and resident physicians, sees patients in traumatic brain injury and therapeutic lifestyle clinics and conducts clinical trials.

Mark Hyman, MD      

Dr. Hyman’s clinical work places food at the center of protocols for reversing chronic disease conditions; his books and online resources focus especially on obesity, blood sugar, thyroid and brain/mind health.

In his latest work, Eat Fat, Get Thin (2016), Dr. Hyman reviews the science on fats and health, references food system issues and food sourcing, and offers a dietary plan with recipes.  His work adds another voice to those challenging current dietary beliefs about fat and is endorsed by Cleveland Clinic’s CEO, Toby Cosgrove, MD, and others in the medical community.

What is important to sustainable agriculture is that Dr. Hyman details for patients and consumers the connections between their health and food quality factors arising from methods in growing and processing. The following excerpts from Eat Fat, Get Thin, were selected for the support they offer local, organic and grass-fed producers:

  1. “… the evidence is overwhelmingly pointing to the fact that it is our processed high-sugar diets, not the fat, that is driving disease and obesity, and that the key is to switch to a whole-foods diet rich in plant foods but also higher in good fats. … What we don’t know is how this diet compares to a higher-fat, whole-foods, mostly plant-based diet containing nuts, seeds, olive and coconut oil, and some healthy grass-fed, antibiotic-, hormone- and pesticide-free animal protein. We need to study this. … There are significant differences between how people handle fats and carbs … but all do better on a wholefoods diet that is the opposite of the standard American diet…” p42
  2. Hyman explores how America went wrong on fats in the diet, the science around different types of saturated fats, omega-6 and omega-3 fats from various sources and draws a conclusion to “avoid most vegetable oils” (p94). He references genetically modified crops, the herbicide glyphosate (Round-Up), formaldehyde formation, glutathione depletion, the potential of gene transference to human gut bacteria, the World Health Organization’s ‘probable carcinogen’ status for glyphosate, and a summary literature review published in Lancet Oncology in 2015.  He advocates for labeling and transparency and notes two reasons for GMO soybeans being a (human health) problem:  “They are the number one source of omega-6 oils in our diets and they contain harmful residues of glyphosate.” p126
  3. In his chapter on meat, Hyman discusses factory farming’s damages to the environment, overuse of antibiotics and animal welfare concerns. Turning to human health benefits, he refers to the “higher amounts of antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides in factory-farmed meat” and compares grass-fed to grain-fed beef: “Grass-fed meat has a healthier fat profile than conventionally raised meat, with two to five times more omega-3 fats” and discusses what this means for disease states. “In addition to having a better fat profile, grass-fed meat has more vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin A, zinc, iron, phosphorous, sodium, and potassium … (and) higher levels of antioxidants”, citing research for each claim. p141-42
  4. Acknowledging the higher costs of grass-fed meats, Hyman advises readers to find less expensive online sources or ‘cowpool’ to share a cow or lamb with friends and states “eating smaller amounts of good-quality animal products is better for you, your wallet and the planet. Save on quantity and splurge on quality.” p142
  5. Regarding the once maligned egg, Hyman exonerates the egg as a valuable source of protein but advises consumers to “stick to pasture-raised or omega-3 eggs, which are much higher in nutrients and antioxidants … (than ones) from commercial, industrial operations”. p144 Grass-fed butter differs from grain-fed (conventionally produced) butter in the 20% that is6. polyunsaturated: “Cows raised on pasture produce milk fat with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1:1, which is ideal. Grain-fed cows, on the other hand, produce a ratio tilted heavily toward omega-6 fats. … conventionally raised butter (has an) excess of omega-6s, (and) it stores pesticides and environmental toxins. … Grass-fed butter also contains a fatty acid called butyrate that promotes intestinal health and fights inflammation… especially in the cardiovascular system.” p145 Nuts and seeds are important sources of protein, fiber and nutrients.
  6. Regarding quality he writes: “I recommend purchasing certified organic raw nuts and seeds; that way, you will protect yourself from exposure to potential contaminants” p158

Dr. Hyman is chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, Director of the Center for Functional Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, and founder and CEO of the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, MA.





Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

5 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
5 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

100 Farmers participated
10 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Dissemination Plan  (Outreach)

Presentations at conferences in Mississippi:

Mississippi Municipal League Annual Conference- June, 2016

Mississippi Association of Planning & Development Districts Annual Conference-May 2016

Mississippi/Alabama Chapter of the American Planning Association Annual Conference-September, 2016

Mississippi Food Summit-November, 2016

Other dissemination strategies:

Report Dissemination List

Study Participants

            Mississippi Development Authority-Jackson

            DeSoto Economic Development Council – Hernando

            Delta Council – Stoneville

            Appalachian Regional Commission – Tupelo

            Delta Regional Authority – Jackson

            Community Development Foundation – Tupelo

            Area Development Partnership – Hattiesburg

            Harrison County Development Commission- Gulfport

            University of Mississippi- Oxford

            Delta State- Cleveland

            University of Southern Mississippi – Hattiesburg

            Mississippi State University – Starkville

            Hinds County Economic Development Authority – Jackson

            Alcorn State University – Lorman

            Columbus-Lowndes County Economic Development – Columbus

            Mid Mississippi Development District – Newton

            East Mississippi Business Development Corporation – Meridian

            Three Rivers Planning and Development District – Pontotoc

            Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce- Jackson

            Winston County Economic Development District Partnership – Louisville

Survey Monkey participants for whom we have contact information:

            Marie Shoemake, Covington County C of C

            Doris Adcox, Magee C of C

            T.J. McSparrin, Clinton C of C

            Linda Ory, Port Gibson C of C

            Joyce H. East, Chickasaw Development Foundation

            Tish H. Williams, Hancock County C of C

            Milton Chambliss, Claiborne County EDD


Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce

Mississippi Economic Council

Mississippi Legislative Agricultural Committees

Southern Rural Development Center

Senator Roger Wicker

Senator Thad Cochran

Rep. Trent Kelly

Rep. Steven Palazzo

Rep. Gregg Harper

Rep. Bennie Thompson

Farm Bureau

Mississippi Municipal League

Mississippi Association of Planning and Development Districts

Mississippi Chapter of the American Planning Association

Mississippi Association of Supervisors

University of Mississippi Medical Center

Jackson State University, School of Public Health

Attendants at speaking engagements who registered their contact information

Mississippi Main Street

Mississippi Economic Development Council

Each of the Planning and Development Districts

Members of the Mississippi Food Policy Council

My Brother’s Keeper, Inc

Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network

Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute

Mississippi Chefs (i.e. John Currence, Cat Corra, Nick Wallace, Miles McMath, etc.)

Cities, Counties

Mississippi Restaurant Association

Mississippi Association of Cooperatives

Mississippi Agritourism Association

Media Releases to state newspapers, television stations, radio stations

Social Media releases

Placement of the report on web sites of Mississippi Food Policy Council, Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, and My Brother's Keeper, Inc.

An abstract was submitted to and accepted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation for its 2017 Symposium but lack of time and travel funds prevented delivery.


Publications.  At the time of this final report submission no publications exist.  Material appropriate to various food stakeholder groups will be developed from the report and used by study collaborators to support their work to help build healthy Mississippi communities.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

This SARE-funded study accomplished several goals: 

  1. It raised awareness within Mississippi's economic development community about:
    1. how much food the state imports and what can be done about it
    2. local food production as a possible economic development strategy
    3. consumer demand for sustainable foods
  2. It identified what is most important to Mississippi's economic development community and thus what local food advocates need to do to engage their interest, e.g. speak their language, make all arguments relevant to economic value; consider how each level - state, regional, and local - might be included.
  3. It created material on local and sustainable food production for use in promoting local food strategies.
  4. It identified cross-sector partnerships so that Mississippi may address economic, health and environmental needs simultaneously.

Potential Contributions

This SARE-funded study makes the following contributions:

  1.  It informs food policy work in Mississippi by gaining the perspectives of economic developers on local food systems and on issues such as training and financial support for farmers, food safety regulations, land use, etc.  It discusses inclusion of sustainable agriculture, specifically organic and grass-fed/pastured foods, in LRFS development.
  2. It captures the sustained interest of consumers in local foods and suggests this grassroots support can be an important resource for initiating local food development in communities.
  3. It provides a description of food quality  and the relationship of that quality to sustainable practices and to human health.
  4. It discusses inclusion of sustainable agriculture, specifically organic and grass-fed/pastured foods, in LRFS development.
  5. It proposes using health as an economic strategy because lifestyle-oriented medicine is expanding into the mainstream and fresh, high quality foods and clean environments are becoming a 'prescription' for chronic health concerns.
  6. It suggests cross-sector partnerships between agriculture, economic development and healthcare in the development of LRFS.

Future Recommendations

  1. It is recommended that advocates for building local and sustainable food systems who wish the support of economic development officials must speak the language of jobs and economic value; they also have something to contribute to conversations about worker health and productivity and healthcare costs.   
  2. It is also recommended that cross-sector collaboration among professionals in agriculture, economic development, medicine and healthcare has much to offer in the development of sustainable food systems.
  3. Lifestyle intervention programs and integrative and functional medicine should be followed for their success in improving health outcomes, reducing health care costs and stimulating consumer demand for local and sustainable foods.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.