Making the Case for Local Food Systems as Economic Development

Final Report for GNC05-046

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,900.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Grant Recipient: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Mary Edwards
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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Project Information


Local food systems in Central Illinois were studied to document their potential as a strategy for community and economic development in rural communities. The project analyzed five key components of local food systems in Illinois: direct-market producers, institutional and commercial food buyers, farmers’ markets, alternatives to farmers’ markets, and individual consumers. Data analysis of contrasts between rural and urban local food markets, consumer shopping preferences for locally grown food, and techniques for working with community leaders to develop public infrastructure and awareness for local food were used to create strategies for building successful local food projects in rural communities.


The idea of developing local food systems is an attractive one, but the “how to” of developing local sources and markets for food is often a stumbling block. Even as consumers are shopping at farmers’ markets, subscribing to community supported agriculture operations, dining at restaurants that buy locally, and developing new relationships with farmers, more would be better. The resource guide created from this project describes factors that contribute to the success or challenges of local food system projects. As Illinois communities develop local food systems and support existing projects, what can others learn from their experiences? This guide provides some of the answers that farmers, consumers and communities can use to develop local food systems.

Project Objectives:

Short term outcomes of the project include increased understanding of effective strategies that promote the development of local food systems. As we documented this information, we provided feedback to case study participants to help them understand the needs of the food system in their communities, and methods to increase awareness of the economic impacts of local food markets among economic development leaders, local food business owners, and consumers. With this increased understanding and some practical examples in mind, producers will have additional tools to develop local market opportunities.

Intermediate outcomes of the project focus upon using the lessons learned through our case studies, with the expectation that more producers will use the strategies we advocate as a way to engage new audiences in their promotion of local foods. This information will help producers to understand consumers’ and institutional food buyers’ purchasing behaviors, policy needs for developing local food systems, and other issues to facilitate involvement of the community in developing local food systems.

Long term, we would like to see the manual help create economically viable food sheds in rural Illinois. By providing producers with guidelines and practical examples of two successful rural marketing ventures, we anticipate that producers will have the tools to develop viable markets closer to home while contributing to the economic stability of their communities. Among consumers, local elected officials, and economic development directors, we hope to increase the acceptance and support of local food systems.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Terra Brockman
  • Leslie Cooperband
  • Marty & Kris Travis


Materials and methods:

Direct-Market Producers
Farmers in thirteen counties of Central Illinois who were producing food for local direct-to-consumer markets were surveyed in 2004 to document types of products, quantities sold, prices, and the opportunities and challenges that these producers faced in growing their businesses.

Institutional and Commercial Food Buyers
Institutional (hospitals, schools, nursing homes) and commercial (restaurants and grocery stores) food buyers were surveyed to understand their propensity for buying locally grown food products and the barriers to selling locally grown food to these markets.

Central Illinois Farmers’ Markets
Six farmers’ markets in Central Illinois were studied to make comparisons between markets in small, rural communities, mid-sized rural communities, and larger urban areas. The markets were observed and market consumers surveyed to learn what elements of each market contributed to its growth or stagnation. Interviews with market managers and vendors also contributed important insights into local farmers’ markets.

Alternatives to Farmers’ Markets
The Fairbury Local Food Project is presented as an alternative local food market for rural communities. The Fairbury Local Food Project is a collaboration between a group of local farmers and the local, independently owned grocery store in the community. Although farmers’ markets are one of the most common markets for locally grown food, there are additional opportunities to create other markets for local food within a community beyond farmers’ markets.

Food Consumers
Consumers in a 22-county region of Central Illinois were surveyed to understand their purchasing behaviors, willingness to buy locally grown food, and their attitudes about their communities.

Research results and discussion:

Initial planning for development of a professional development program and materials for University Extension Educators to promote local food systems in their communities. Professional development trainings were held in February 2008 for University of Illinois Extension educators, community leaders, and interested producers. Over 90 people attended two workshops; the participants represented different sectors of the food system: some farmers, institutional food buyers, local government officials and Extension educators. Participants received worksheets and other materials from the resource guide to use in developing local food systems in their respective communities.

Project Presentations:
Poster presentation at SARE National Conference, Kansas City, MO 2008

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Hultine, S., L. Cooperband, P. Curry, and S. Gasteyer. “Linking Small Farms to Communities with Local Food: A Case Study of the Local Food Project in Fairbury, Illinois.” Community Development: Journal of the Community Development Society, Special Issue on Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development. (2007) Vol 38, No. 3. Pp. 61-76.

Gasteyer, S., S. Hultine, L. Cooperband, and P. Curry. “Produce Sections, Town Squares, and Farm Stands: Comparing Local Food in Community Context.” Southern Rural Sociology Journal. Vol. 23, No. 1 2008.

Hultine, Sarah. “Contributing More than Calories: The Fairbury Local Food Project.” Small Farmers’ Journal. Winter 2008.

Hultine, S. and L. Cooperband. “Beyond the Farmers’ Market: Planning for Local Food Systems in Illinois – A Guide for Community Leaders. University of Illinois Extension publication. Available at

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The research team has received phone calls and emails from community members, farmers, and local government leaders from Illinois and other states, expressing interest in the research and information to local food system development in their own communities.

The research project has garnered additional publicity for the Fairbury local food project participants through University press releases and articles.

From June through August, 2007, graduate student Sarah Hultine conducted a similar study of farmers' markets in the town of Albi, in southwestern France, as part of a study-abroad research experience. The research questions used in the Illinois farmers' market project were applied to the French farmers' markets to understand differences in marketing strategies, consumer preferences, and product availability between a rural community in France, and the rural areas studied in Central Illinois.

The workshops for community leaders were very successful, and we have received numerous requests for copies of the resource guide for community leaders interested in developing local food systems.

Economic Analysis

We did not conduct economic analysis for this project.

Farmer Adoption

The focus of this project was not aimed directly at farmers, so it is difficult to say what kind of adoption farmers would have from this research. Farmers who are engaged with helping their communities build local food systems should find the resource guide a useful tool for engaging their communities.


Areas needing additional study

We would like to evaluate how communities use the resource guide.

We would also like to gain a better understanding of farmers that raise both commodity crops (grains) and products for direct market sales (fruits, vegetables, livestock) because these farmers may serve as models for other farmers interested in transitioning to raise products for local foods markets.

Information Products

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.