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Supplying Locally Grown Foods to the Consumer

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

By Michael Hand, Economist, Economic Research Service

Anyone who has shopped at a farmers market on a weekend morning can appreciate the freshness of the food, the interaction with farmers, and the ability to know where and by whom the food was produced. Demand for locally produced food has increased sharply in recent years, precisely because of such consumer preferences.

As an economist, I’m interested in how locally grown food is supplied – specifically, how local food supply chains compare with mainstream chains in delivering products from farm to consumer. With a group of my colleagues in the profession, I conducted a series of 15 case studies to help understand these dynamics.

The case studies covered locally produced apples, blueberries, spring mix greens, beef, and fluid milk, each in a different major metropolitan area. In each of the five product-place groupings, we looked at three types of supply chains: direct market (e.g., farmers markets or home delivery); intermediated (sales through natural foods chains or institutions); and mainstream (e.g., supermarkets).

We visited and talked with farmers, cooperative grocery stores, retail distribution centers, food processors, and supermarkets. Larry Thompson, for example, farms 145 acres within 20 miles of downtown Portland, OR, and focuses his sales of blueberries through farmers markets and farm stands. Edwin Shank operates a 250-cow grass-based organic dairy in Southeastern Pennsylvania; he supplies milk to a processor ten miles away that delivers milk and other dairy products to MOM’s Organic Market stores in the Washington, DC area.

Their stories, their business models and decisions, and those of other players we interviewed, indicate the wide variety of ways local foods reach consumers. Our case studies provide details that, along with publicly available data, will likely be of interest to farmers, entrepreneurs, and retail operators, as well as researchers and policymakers.

Among our findings is that producers receive a greater share of retail prices in local supply chains than they do in mainstream chains, and their net revenue is higher despite the cost of undertaking the distribution and marketing themselves. Interestingly, while “food miles” are lower in the local supply chains, fuel use per unit of product varies across locations and products. This finding is an example of the need for further research on the relative environmental impacts across supply chains.

Cheri Fletcher (l.) and Lauren Michael, of Thompson Farms in Boring, Oregon, set up a stall at a local farmers market. Credit: Courtesy Thompson Farms and Boring Farmers Market
Cheri Fletcher (l.) and Lauren Michael, of Thompson Farms in Boring, Oregon, set up a stall at a local farmers market.
Credit: Courtesy Thompson Farms and Boring Farmers Market


A sign inside the Maple Avenue Market in Vienna, Virginia promotes locally produced dairy products and other foods. Courtesy Gary Jeter.
A sign inside the Maple Avenue Market in Vienna, Virginia promotes locally produced dairy products and other foods.
Courtesy Gary Jeter.

Showcase Watershed Program Launches In Three Chesapeake Bay States

By USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan

On Friday, I was pleased to be part of unveiling the latest step in the Obama Administration’s strategy for restoring the Chesapeake Bay with the announcement of three Showcase Watershed projects in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.

The Showcase Watershed pilot projects will demonstrate what can be accomplished by bringing people, sound science and funding together to solve natural resource problems in a targeted area.

USDA and our partners are helping farmers within the Showcase Watersheds implement voluntary conservation practices to reduce nutrient and sediment runoff. This matters, because all of the water that enters waterways from local farms in the watersheds eventually ends up in the Bay. Successful approaches learned in Showcase areas can serve as models for restoring ecosystems elsewhere in the country.

A thriving and sustainable agricultural sector is essential to the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, so the announcement of the Showcase Watersheds was made from a working farm in each State. I was honored to attend the launch event in Pennsylvania at the Eby-Patterson farm in Hershey, where the owners raise beef cattle and are excellent stewards of their natural resources. 

We had the opportunity to examine the positive changes in the Conewago Creek that runs through their property.  With experts from our Natural Resources Conservation Service on hand we examined the aquatic life that is thriving in the creek and talked with the Patterson family about their efforts to contribute to a healthier watershed.All three watersheds—Smith Creek in Virginia, Upper Chester River in Maryland and Conewago Creek in Pennsylvania—include a wide diversity of agriculture, allowing for a number of different approaches to conservation. In every case, though, USDA is coordinating with numerous partners from local, state and federal government, non-profit organizations and private organizations to reach out to 100 percent of land owners.

 

We rely on our nation’s working lands for sustenance, economic health and cultural heritage, not to mention beautiful and satisfying landscapes like the one I was privileged to visit on Friday.  

The focused work we do in the Showcase Watersheds—added to the extensive conservation efforts already in place to restore the Bay—will strengthen both the region and U.S. agriculture overall, enhancing both productivity and sustainability. We are proud to be partners in this critical effort. 

 

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan looks over the creek at the farm of Mrs. Eby-Patterson and husband, Daniel. They are using new sustainable conservation techniques to keep their creek clean and to help improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay on their farm in Hershey, PA, on Friday, June 18, 2010.
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan looks over the creek at the farm of Mrs. Eby-Patterson and husband, Daniel. They are using new sustainable conservation techniques to keep their creek clean and to help improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay on their farm in Hershey, PA, on Friday, June 18, 2010.

Direct USDA Recovery Act Home Loans Assist Dozens of California Families

Earlier this month USDA California Rural Development State Director Glenda Humiston kicked off Homeownership Month celebrations with visits to two Central Valley subdivisions.  For over 30 families, Homeownership Month took on a very special meaning, and USDA was there to mark the occasions. Read more »

Iowa’s Innovative Bioenergy Industries Have Caught the Attention of the Nation and the World

This week I had the pleasure of meeting with representatives from eight German companies who are in Iowa to learn more the approach to biofuels in the US, and specifically in Iowa. Read more »

USDA, Partners, Leading the Way to a Clean Energy Economy

There is an excitement at USDA with respect to bioenergy and biofuels and much is going on – a BIOFRENZY if you will – not in a sense of chaos – but rather many challenges and much to do.  The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will be implemented July 1, 2010. The RFS2 calls for 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be used in the US transportation fuel supply by 2022 – and the majority of this total must be advanced biofuels. Read more »

Remembering Their Sacrifice: Food Safety Employees Killed in the Line of Duty

By Al Almanza, Administrator, Food Safety and Inspection Service

Today marks a difficult time in the hearts of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service employees.

Ten years ago, FSIS compliance officers Jean Hillery and Tom Quadros; California special investigator Bill Shaline; and California inspector Earl Willis were shot as they worked together investigating a San Leandro, Calif., sausage plant. Jean, Tom and Bill would die from their injuries, while Earl would barely escape with his life.
Earl recently passed away.

Our fallen comrades are representative of the many outstanding public servants driving our government’s work for all Americans, everyday. USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, FSIS Assistant Administrator William Smith, coworkers, family and I are honoring them in ceremonies today and tomorrow.

Though the plant’s owner was tried and convicted, 10 years later, we haven’t forgotten this tragedy and our commitment to make sure it never happens again.

Workplace violence prevention is a priority for us — and should be everywhere. We emphasize outreach to improve relationships with plant staff, so they know we’re not there to harm them, but to protect the public and assist the plant in producing safe food. Other steps include a 24-hour hotline to report threats and appointing workplace violence liaison/intervention officers nationwide.

As we recall the lives and service of these four, we remember our mission to ensure safe food is a noble, important one. Those performing it — often without thanks and under the radar — are some of America’s most dedicated civil servants.