- Animal Production: consumer demand for sustainable practices
- Farm Business Management: economic development for local food systems and small farm development
- Pest Management: consumer demand for sustainable practices
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
- Soil Management: consumer demand for nutrient dense foods grown sustainably
- Sustainable Communities: community planning, local and regional food systems, partnerships, public policy
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
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Objectives and Performance Targets
Outcomes and Impacts (Study Findings)
- Local and Regional Food Systems, U.S. Trends
- Local Food Systems in Mississippi, Economic Development Survey
- Sustainable Foods
- Survey Documents
- LRFS: U.S. Trends
- Survey Results (raw data)
- U.S. Demand for Local, Organic and Grass-fed
- Consumer Choice Bibliography
- Lifestyle Medicine and Sustainable Agriculture
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.