Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal offers an annual award for newly published research or thinking that has been recognized to be outstanding by members of the Food Studies Research Network.
Demand for “local” food has grown dramatically in many places across the US in recent years. Despite this, many producers of local food—including many small, organic, new and beginning, and/or diverse-crop farmers—have struggled to create and maintain viable farming businesses. To bridge these seemingly conflicting trends, a number of stakeholders—including many local governments—have actively tried to create policies and enabling environments that promote local food and that support producers of local food. Indeed, there may be multiple opportunities for decision-makers to lessen some of the challenges that local food producers face. This article asks: What are the perceived opportunities for, and barriers to, the development of local food systems, and how can public policy respond? The article focuses on Boulder County, Colorado as a case-study example. We conducted interviews with sixteen farmers and ranchers that operated farms on agricultural land within Boulder County and six key stakeholders from organizations involved with the agricultural system in Boulder County. Our interviews identified multiple opportunities for the development of local food systems, including the presence of strong markets that demand and support local food. Our interviews also identified multiple challenges, including: the high costs of purchasing land, and the value of land relative to farm income; difficulties in accessing farmland of suitable size and/or soil quality; and high living costs and labor costs. Most farmers that we interviewed relied on off-farm income to supplement their farm income, and many reported multiple regulatory barriers to farm diversification that might otherwise enable them to rely less on this off-farm income. Our interviewees recommended various actions to mitigate the challenges that they identified, including: to create tax incentives that might encourage landowners to sell or rent agricultural land to new and beginning farmers; to pay laborers through non-cash benefits (e.g. free or low cost on-farm housing); and to encourage decision-makers to discuss and review those regulations that currently constrain farm diversification.
This research article emerged from an interdisciplinary project on local food systems. The project was funded by the University of Colorado Boulder’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. It represented a collaboration between researchers and The Shed, a Boulder County collaborative of government, non-profit, education, and for-profit groups who share an interest in local food systems. The Shed was interested in research that would systematically identify the challenges faced by local farmers in Boulder County, as well as potential solutions. While this research was based on a single case study, cities across the US are interested in developing more local food systems and we hope that our findings may have relevance elsewhere. We shared our findings with researchers, farmers, and stakeholders. In addition, the project connects to Dr. Veronica House’s current book project, Local Organic: Ecologies, Food Systems, and Writing for Impact. Ashley Dancer used the experience she gained from this research project to inform her current work in the Real Estate Industry. She is currently working on the redevelopment of a brownfield site to create a farm-to-table suburb that will connect a community to its food source. For local farmers, the development will provide space for a farmer’s market, additional farm acreage, and built-in partnerships with restaurant and residential customers eager to purchase local food. The project will partner with the local high school and university to provide food system educational opportunities. This development project will provide an amenity for the community and multiple income streams, additional visibility, and marketing for local farmers. These research and development experiences have motivated Ashley to remain involved in science, research, and evidence-based decision-making.
—Peter Newton, Ashley Dancer, and Veronica House
Bryan McDonald, Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp. 1-15
Jody Beck, Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp. 1-13
Rebecca Harris, Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp. 1-20
Dr. Silvia Bottinelli, Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp.1-17