Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Economic Impacts of Local Food in Iowa

In 2013, the Leopold Center and the steering committee for the Regional Food Systems Working Group (RFSWG) collaborated on an outcomes-based evaluation to measure the collective community economic impacts associated with regional food system development in Iowa.boy holding beet

This evaluation measured four indicators of economic change:

  • local food sales by farmers
  • local food purchases by grocery stores, restaurants and institutions
  • job creation as a result of local food production, processing or utilization, and
  • funds leveraged by RFSWG groups to support the development of regional food systems.

The following report, 2012 Economic Impacts of Iowa's Regional Food  Systems Working Group, discusses the findings from this evaluation and implications for local and regional food systems in Iowa. It is the first coordinated, comprehensive statewide attempt to measure actual community impacts associated with regional food system development in Iowa.

Statewide report

Highlights of the findings

  • 103 farmers reported more than $10 million in local food sales in 2012.
  • 74 buyers reported nearly $9 million in 2012 (this included grocery stores, restaurants, K-12 schools, colleges, hospitals, nursing homes, caterers, camps and non-profits).
  • Not quite half of the buyers (35) also reported their total food budget, so we were able to calculate the average percent (8.7) of budgets spent on local foods, or an average of $120,731 spent by each buyer. If all 74 buyers participating in the survey increased local food purchases to 30 percent of their total food budget, these markets would have reported more than $21.5 million in local food purchases in 2012, potentially creating 93 new full-time jobs.
  • We collected jobs data from a subset of farmers (47) and buyers (74). Of 36 new on-farm jobs that were created in 2012 as a result of selling local food, 10 were full-time equivalent (FTE). Buyers reported creating 17 new jobs as a result of buying local food, 14 of which were FTE jobs.
  • Eight regional food groups leveraged $766,020 for local food efforts.

What was learned?

  1. Local food production as a way to address health and financial problems is attracting greater attention.
  2. The directed efforts of local food system coordinators, champions and partners across the state have leveraged multiple economic benefits for Iowa communities.
  3. By connecting the jobs data with the financial leveraging ability of the regional food groups, we discovered that it cost the public much less to support one new FTE job in the local foods sector in Iowa, compared to the retail or high-tech industry sectors. Limited public investment can leverage significant impacts in regional food system development that benefit the citizens of Iowa.
  4. Much of the popular focus on local food commerce is limited to direct-to-consumer markets (such as farmers markets) or those who can afford to eat healthy food, but direct markets represent only a small portion of local food sales, potential markets and a population that needs greater access to healthy food.
  5. Re-localizing the food system in new and innovative ways can help create jobs lost during the recession, increase retention of local food dollars, create a stronger economy and potentially improve health outcomes.

Local food champions -  Read their stories

Part of the evaluation included a collection of stories about Iowa's local food champions -- those farm-based and community businesses working with regional food groups throughout the state. Read their stories at the links below or download a printable copy of all profiles [PDF].

More about RFSWG

Established in 2003, the Regional Food Systems Working Group is a statewide umbrella networkIowa map showing counties of RFSWG groups for all Iowans working to build a more resilient regional food system. RFSWG is comprised of 15 geographically-based groups called regional food groups that reach 90 of Iowa's 99 counties. Each regional food group works with different stakeholders -- farmers, food-based businesses, non-profits, Extension, Resource Conservation & Development organizations, educational institutions and government agencies -- to support local food systems development in their region. RFSWG is funded by a competitive grant from the Leopold Center.

* Coordinators of 11 regional food groups have data specific to their region and profiles of local food champions; please contract regional coordinators for those reports. [Contact information for coordinators is on page 18 of the full report.]. Links above go to the regional food group's website.

More information

For more information about this evaluation, contact Associate Scientist Corry Bregandahl, (515) 462-0450, or corry@iastate.edu