Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled a new resource created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado State University that will help communities and businesses evaluate the economic benefits of investing in local food systems. The secretary released details about "The Economics of Local Food Systems: A Toolkit to Guide Community Discussions, Assessments & Choices" in his keynote remarks at the 12th Annual Good Food Festival and Conference in Chicago, Ill.
"Strong local and regional food systems are helping to revitalize rural and urban communities across the country, and more than 160,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are tapping into growing consumer demand for locally grown products. With USDA support, this sector is increasing access to healthy foods for local residents and creating opportunity for small businesses that store, process, market and distribute food," Vilsack said. "Now, community leaders have a toolkit that can help measure job creation and other economic development indicators, which will help make the case for continued investments."
The Local Food System Toolkit was developed by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to help communities reliably evaluate the economic impact of investing in local and regional food systems. The Local Food System Toolkit provides detailed guidance in seven modules to measure and assess the expected economic impacts of local food investments. Using real-world projects, experiences and applied research, it provides grounded, credible and useable assessment methods. The toolkit can be used by policy-makers, community leaders, private businesses or foundations to offer specific estimates that will help them decide whether to invest in initiatives that increase local food activity.
Vilsack has identified strengthening local and regional food systems as one of the four pillars of USDA's commitment to rural economic development. Over the course of this Administration, USDA has helped farmers, ranchers and businesses access the growing market for local and regional foods, which was valued at $12 billion in 2014, according to industry estimates. In the last six years, USDA has invested more than $800 million in more than 29,100 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects. These activities contribute to USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) initiative, which coordinates efforts across USDA to support local and regional food systems.