Does the Local Movement help Farmers?

Trey Malone, who has posted on this blog before here, along with Prof. Whitaker, has an interesting article examining the economic benefits of the ‘local’ food movement. You can read the full article here. Essentially the article shows how the “local food movement” is an urban phenomenon that benefits small farms close to urban and affluent areas. There can be negative consequences to this as Malone and Whitaker show. The article contains some great illustrations by the authors. Below some of the maps and highlights of the article:

The patterns suggested by the maps above support the conclusion of a 2010 letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack from a group of U.S. senators, including Pat Roberts from Kansas (2010), about government investment in local food initiatives. The senators wrote, “This spending doesn’t appear geared toward conventional farmers who produce the vast majority of our nation’s food supply, but is instead aimed at small, hobbyist and organic producers whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers’ markets.”

Policymakers and the media have increased their support of the “Buy Local” movement, often alongside claims of rural economic development.  Various fiscal policies have been written to promote a return to local food systems.  However, this strategy could prove to be catastrophic for already stressed rural communities if it increases food costs and impairs rural areas’ potential to trade.  “Buy Local” policies may, in fact, be redistributing money to higher income locales


Generally, in counties where high percentages of Community Supported Agriculture or direct-to-human consumption exist, residents have higher incomes and population density is also high. In other words, the farms that enjoy high levels of support from their local populations are not typically located in more rural parts of the country.

This is the other face of “buy local” policies. Certainly, many people who indeed purchase from local farmers want to support small inefficient farms rather than large government funded commercial farms. But perhaps they are unaware, or willing to turn a blind eye, to the possibility that this may be less efficient and worse for the environment. A further study should look at the environmental benefits and losses of commercial and small scale farms. Other article on food can be seen here, here and here.

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