Increasing Knowledge and Capacity for Transforming Local and Regional Food Systems in Idaho

Project Overview

Project Type: Enhanced State Grants
Funds awarded in 2017: $24,998.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2019
Grant Recipient: University of Idaho Extension
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Lauren Golden
University of Idaho


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, technical assistance, workshop
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, community planning, food hubs, local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, sustainability measures, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    There is an increased demand and growing interest for local foods in Idaho. Many communities are looking at this growth and trying to assess or evaluate the impacts of the “buy local” phenomenon. Several Idaho communities have already taken on a community food assessment, developed a food hub and/or have an active Food Council, Food Coalition or other food systems organization. Each community has different goals and each is at a different phase of building a more resilient food system.

    While many communities have made progress, there are still many challenges to convening food system practitioners on a local or regional level. For many food systems, the next step is to identify, prioritize and justify projects that contribute in some form to improved food security and increased availability and consumption of local foods. One component that is lacking for many Idaho communities is the ability to evaluate the economic impacts of local foods to individual communities, and to the overall state.

    Therefore, the Idaho SARE Advisory Committee identified the need to develop food system technical assistance workshops organized by UI Extension and tailored for individual communities and a large conference focused on the economic analysis of local foods. As such, this proposal aims to: 1) increase capacity for food system practitioners, statewide, to prioritize and achieve food system goals and 2) increase use of data to evaluate and communicate the economic impacts of local foods to Idaho communities.

    The Idaho SARE PDP Advisory Committee, as well as a needs assessment conducted with Extension and non-profit representatives, identified a target plan to bring local food system workshops to as many communities in Idaho as possible. The Idaho SARE Advisory Committee is comprised of land grant university faculty, farmers/ranchers, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.

    In Idaho, many communities are making strides in enhancing and increasing access and production of local foods. Much of these efforts are led in collaboration with community organizers, visionaries, non-profits, and Extension. However many of these efforts would benefit from additional outside support as well as collaborating beyond the community for strategic regional food system planning. Therefore, the necessary support outlined for this proposal include the following: 1) a large conference that convenes food system statewide leaders focused on the economic metrics of local foods and 2) facilitated food system workshops for three to five Idaho communities.

    Around the country, farmers, entrepreneurs, community organizers, and activists are creating novel ways to rebuild food systems that are economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable (Fitzgerald, Evans, & Daniel, 2010). From food hubs, to Food Councils, and farm-to-institution initiatives, these projects led by visionaries are setting examples of ways to re-envision the way food is produced, processed, distributed, and consumed by Americans (Donahur, 2014; Ackerman-Leist, 2013; Fox, 2013). These efforts offer strategic models for other communities to replicate in order to produce more sustainable food systems on the local, regional, and national level.

    Several studies have evaluated the regional economic impact of increasing agricultural production and local consumption. For example, a study conducted by WorldWatch, researchers estimated that if the greater Seattle area sourced just 20% of its food locally, it would inject an extra billion dollars per year into the city’s economy. In another study, economist calculated that a single region in Northwest Wisconsin lost $1.13 billion dollars a year in potential wealth through the food economy. In the Cheasapeake Bay region, a study found that a 15% increase in local food purchases would bring in three times more dollars to farming communities than Federal subsidies currently bring to the region. (Harper, et. al, 2009). Therefore, this project will fill a necessary food system gap, which is helping communities use data to create change.

    With the complex network of individuals involved in the local food system, this project will naturally engage a variety of stakeholders and partners as part of our team, thus ensuring a dense network of collaborators (i.e. Extension, non-profits, schools, libraries, retail suppliers, volunteers, city planning, public officials, chefs, government agencies, producers, teachers, consumers, etc.).

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Conduct one large conference in Boise, ID focused on the economic metrics of evaluating impacts from local food systems. This conference will help convene many of the food system leaders throughout the state and will capture communities that are interested in applying for the proposed food system technical assistance workshops, provided by UI Extension. The end-goals of the large conference are to help communities develop an economic framework to target investments and initiatives to improve the food system. Another significant advantage to hosting a conference in the state capital is to engage with public policy leaders and officials to discuss “how food systems can impact our local economies”. Ultimately, the conference will help create an economic engine around local foods for Idaho communities.

    The second major component of this proposal is to conduct food system workshops tailored for three to five individual Idaho communities to increase local food system efforts.

    The U.S. food system is a complex set of interactions comprised of economic, social, environmental, cultural, and political factors. This means that the food system not only constitutes food production but the processing, distribution, consumption, and food waste management. Over the last decade, as consumers have increased demand for locally produced food, so have questions regarding what are the limitations of our national food system to consumers, farmers, and the environment (Martinez, et al., 2010)? Therefore, a major objective of this project is to help individual communities make structural transformations to their local food system. As a result, Idaho will provide multiple models for replication and offer a statewide strategic road map of food system reform.

    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.