Source: Cincinnati Enquirer
If 10 percent of consumers in our region shifted 10 percent of their food budget to purchasing foods grown within 100 miles of Cincinnati, it would infuse an estimated $56 million into our region’s economy. That’s about $12 a week for most families. That means a small behavioral shift by a small portion of our population could add up to some big economic wins for our communities.
For many people, buying local means shopping for in-season produce at farmers markets, where fruits and veggies are fresher, grown with minimal pesticides, and usually at or below the cost of equivalent produce at the grocery. For residents who live car-free, neighborhood markets such as Northside Farmers Market and the Healthy Harvest Mobile Market may be the most accessible source of quality fruits and veggies. If consumers are eligible for food assistance, Produce Perks Midwest will give them up to an additional $10/week to spend at a market for every $10 they spend on fresh produce.
Shopping local does not mean having to shop at farmers markets, though. Community Supported Agriculture shares provide a weekly bag of fresh produce and other local products, and Local Food Connect allows consumers to shop online for local products and pick them up at locations across the region.
While individual consumer practices can add up, there are also opportunities to effect bigger systems change.
For instance, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) serves more than 8 million meals per year. Thanks to efforts by their school food service staff, a portion of that money is spent purchasing foods from local companies such as Our Harvest, Local Food Connect and KHI Foods. These businesses exclusively employ local workers and source products from local farmers. CPS’s efforts translate into increased jobs and wealth in our region.
In an era dominated by national and global supply chains, purchasing locally is not always easy for big institutions like CPS. But with funding from the USDA Local Food Promotion Program, Green Umbrella is working to change that. Our Local Food Advocate is helping institutions understand how to increase their purchasing from local farmers, working to improve our regional aggregation and distribution systems, and helping local farmers undergo the food safety training needed to be able to sell to large companies.
Another small thing consumers can do to create bigger systems change is to act as citizens of our democracy by letting our senators and representatives know that they want to see more healthy food options, reliable jobs and a stronger local economy supported in the 2018 Farm Bill.
The Farm Bill is an historically bi-partisan piece of legislation that is rewritten every four to six years to set numerous food and agriculture policies for our nation. The 2014 Farm Bill will expire at the end of September, and conference committee meetings are under way to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill. In the Senate’s version this year is the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), which would permanently allocate $60 million to supporting activities like those described above that help expand access to fresh nutritious food for consumers, increase the customer base for small and mid-size farmers, and provide an economic boost to struggling rural economies.
If you care about these things, I encourage you to call, write or tweet your senators and representatives and tell them you support LAMP in the Farm Bill.
Michaela Oldfield is Director of the Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council, which is a cross-sector coalition advocating for an equitable, healthy, sustainable food system for all residents of the ten county region.