Role of local food systems in farm policy is growing

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Jan. 26- Sales of locally produced foods comprise a small but growing part of U.S. agricultural sales, according to a Congressional Research Report released this week, “The Role of Local Food Systems in U.S. Farm Policy.”  An estimated total of 107,000 farms are engaged in local food systems, or about five percent of all U.S. farms.

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“In recent years, growing demand for ‘local' foods has raised the importance of direct farm sales and the marketing of locally grown foods within the U.S. agricultural sector,” according to the report. “Although local food sales still comprise a small share of overall sales, demand continues to grow.”

USDA estimates that farm-level value of local food sales totaled about $4.8 billion in 2008, or about 1.6 percent of the U.S. market for agricultural products.

Examples of the types of farming businesses that are engaged in local foods are direct-to-consumer marketing, farmers' markets, farm-to-school programs, community-supported agriculture, community gardens, school gardens, food hubs and market aggregators, and kitchen incubators and mobile slaughter units, among myriad other types of operations. 

The report provides summaries of selected USDA programs that potentially support local and regional food systems.

“The 112th Congress will likely consider reauthorization of the 2008 farm bill, and may debate options for providing additional support for local and regional producers,” according to the report. “To date, a number of bills have been introduced, including comprehensive marker bills that would expand the benefits for local and regional food systems.”

Although the farm bill currently contains few specific programs that directly support local and regional food systems, many community and farm advocacy groups have been arguing that such food systems should play a larger policy role within the next farm bill.

The entire CRS report, “The Role of Local Food Systems in U.S. Farm Policy,” is available here.

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