Quantifying the Multiplier Effect: What Sustainable Local Food Systems can Mean to Local Communities

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $211,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: extension
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture, marketing management, farm-to-institution, feasibility study, agricultural finance, market study, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, public participation, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, employment opportunities, sustainability measures


    Seventy percent of consumers today say they want to know where their food comes from and how it was grown; they are also willing to pay more for locally produced food (Packaged Facts, 2007). Given that in North Carolina consumers spend $35 billion on food annually, there is broad interest amongst the state’s agriculture sectors, business community, and policy makers to develop a local food economy as a way to capture as much of this revenue as possible for local businesses. Despite this broad interest, there exists very limited data in the Southern Region that quantifies the potential impact on local jobs and the area’s economy, the type of information necessary to influence policy makers and others into making commitments towards investing in local infrastructure and other related fields/areas. The purpose of this project was to quantitatively evaluate the unique economic impact of producing, processing, distributing, and selling agricultural goods locally (within the state for the purposes of this project) as compared to those imported from outside state lines. We studied how the revenue a good generates as it moves from producer to processor to distributor to consumer was affected by whether it originated locally or not. We also studied how these effects affected the sectors of the local economy not directly involved with agriculture.

    This analysis took into account differences in farming systems (sustainable versus organic versus conventional), differences in supply chain composition (both due to region as well as method of production), differences in crops, and differences in farm size. Our methods included a statewide survey of farmers based on region and economic tier and a variety of types of analyses as described below. Results of the farmer survey highlighted the diverse nature of agriculture across the state of NC, with a large range of farm sizes, values, profitability, and marketing/sales strategies. Secondly, farms of all but the highest values and acreages engage in Direct to Consumer Sales in NC. Thirdly, the point at which NC farms start reliably being profitable is around 100 acres in size. We also found that farms that sell direct to consumers are statistically more likely to buy from a greater range of input suppliers than farms that do not. The intention of collecting the survey data used in this project was to test the accuracy of the IMPLAN database to field data collected in NC, however we were unable to use the data for this purpose due to a lower than necessary response rate across a sufficient number of sampling regions.

    We have also developed (and are developing) a set of tools to be used by economic developers including a video, a data visualization set using additional 10 percent campaign data, and also a set of infographics (116) using USDA census data and a state Farmer’s Market inventory. For the infographics, fifteen agricultural data points comparing USDA census data from 2007 to 2012 are featured in one hundred North Carolina counties and the sixteen corresponding Council of Government region posters. The posters feature a narrative guide detailing how to use the tool to communicate agricultural statistics as a measure for the potential of agricultural development in local economies and includes additional agriculture economic development resources. The infographics have been shared with food councils, extension staff, regional and county level planners and economic developers, and farmers. The goal of the infographic is to provide a basic, easy-to-understand overview of the agricultural economy in the county and serves as a starting point for larger discussions around local agriculture and local food systems, among a variety of stakeholders, and also for discussions about the nuts and bolts of that system.

    Project objectives:

    Objective 1: Develop Indicators Using Input from Advisory Group

    Objective 2: Develop Comprehensive Database of Farmers in Relevant Counties

    Objective 3: Gather Relevant Data from Survey Participants

    Objective 4: Use both Gathered and Public Data to Complete Econometric Analyses

    Objective 5: Further Explore Current Barriers to Growth of Portions of Agricultural Economy Implicated in Econometric Analysis

    Objective 6: Implement Outreach and Dissemination

    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.