Making the Case for Local Food Systems as Economic Development

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: display, extension, focus group, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, market study, marketing management
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, social capital

    Proposal abstract:

    There is a surging interest in building local food systems, within which foods are produced, processed, and consumed within a 60-mile radius. While there is a focus on local foods to improve health and control food safety, this project will explore, measure, and describe economic impacts of local food systems in rural communities. At a recent program about building local food systems in central Illinois, attendees identified barriers to local food production and consumption, including a lack of market opportunities for farmers producing foods for local consumption, and a lack of economic and marketing information available for farmers interested in converting from current commodity agriculture production to local food production systems. In this project, we will develop a “how-to” manual for producers to describe the process of developing local markets, define roles of key stakeholders, and quantify the economic benefits of local food production and consumption. To develop the major strategies, we will use data collected through case studies of two unique marketing ventures in rural Illinois. The Department of Human and Community Development will fund most of my assistantship. I will document case studies and use data to describe how case study participants developed their markets. The SARE funding requested will cover case study research and review of the manual. Producers will be able to use the manual to develop strong markets for local foods in their communities. Outcomes include farmers’ increased understanding of the needs of local food systems, clear and compelling examples of success in implementing new local food marketing ventures, and a forum to foster discussion among key stakeholders in the development of viable rural local food systems. The materials will be evaluated through focus groups of case study participants, and review by producers, Extension staff and economic development officials.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Short term outcomes of the project include increased understanding of effective strategies that promote the development of local food systems. As we document this information, we will provide 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 foodsheds 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.

    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.