According to the Union of Concerned Scientists report, “Growing Economies: Connecting Local Farmers and Large-Scale Food Buyers to Create Jobs and Revitalize America’s Heartland,” smart public policies that connect local farmers to large food buyers such as supermarkets, restaurants, hospitals and school districts can help bring back midsize farms, create thousands of jobs and boost the local economy.
Researchers at Iowa State University have estimated that Iowans spend $8 billion on food annually and only 10 percent of the food is locally produced. Iowa farmers could capitalize on the increasing demand for locally-grown food, according to the study, which also found:
- If just half of the state’s food-buying institutions purchased food from in-state farmers at the level of interest they expressed in recent surveys, it would generate $1.67 billion in sales—a boon to the state’s economy. If all of Iowa’s institutions purchased locally at the level they would like, it would generate more than $3 billion in sales.
- Midsize farms could contribute roughly half that added revenue. Iowa lost roughly 6,000 midsize family farms from 2007 to 2012, but beefed up local-food markets could return nearly three-quarters of those farms to the state.
- If midsize farms supplied food to meet half of the identified market demand, it could support at least 12,000 in-state jobs and possibly as many as 49,000 full-time farm jobs.
- Beginning and transitioning farmers need financial incentives, research and technical assistance to get healthy food from farms to markets. By providing such support, forward-looking federal food and farm policies could revitalize rural communities across the country.