Five Takeaways from the Local Foods Impact Conference

Written by Izzy Moody ’19, Food Institute Student Fellow 

As an advocate for local farms, I have learned to support local foods initiatives by “voting with my dollar”: spending my money at farmer’s markets, small businesses, and on local products at larger grocery stores. However, local farmers require greater support for the many challenges they encounter. In recent years, USDA as well as States, investors, and philanthropies have been investing money into local foods to help farmers overcome burdens like lack of capital or market access. What exactly do these investments look like, and how do these actors know their aid is effective?

The GW Food Institute and US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service aimed to address these questions at their Local Foods Impact Conference. Last week, academics, policy makers, business owners, non-profit stakeholders, and farmers gathered on GW’s campus to explore how the impact of governmental support to local and regional farms can be measured.

Here are a few things I learned:

Gary Black, Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture

  • Supporting local farmers is a bipartisan initiative.

To kick off the conference, Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black joined us, highlighting Georgia Grown: a marketing and development program Commissioner Black leads that unites everyone from the farmer to the consumers to promote the state’s homegrown products. Through this project, products from Georgia’s agribusinesses can be found in stores and cafeterias across the state. According to Commissioner Black, promoting local foods is a smart move.

Tony and Doreen Schultz, Stoney Acres Farm, Athens WI.

  • Investing in local foods = investing in community.

Tony Schultz and his mom, Doreen, are experts on how a farm can cultivate much more than vegetables. At Stoney Acres in Athens, WI, Tony’s parents used to operate a dairy farm. Nowadays you won’t hear any moo’s, but there’s plenty of activity–  Tony invites neighbors and out-of-towners to feast on the their homemade pizza, topped with fresh greens and veggies from the produce he grows on the farm. Tony’s advice for the audience? Revitalize communities by establishing local foods networks.

Walter Robb, retail consultant and former CEO Whole Foods

  • Local foods is big money.

From “Georgia Grown” to Stoney Acres, stories of local foods’ economic success became a theme of the Local Foods Impact Conference. Walter Robb, former CEO of Whole Foods, explained that customers want transparency when they’re grocery shopping: “People want connections to their food.” The booming business of Whole Foods is proof that procuring local foods makes customers happy and helps the businesses that serve them thrive.

A-Dae Romero-Briones, Associate Director of Research, First Nations Development Institute

  • Minority involvement in local foods is crucial.

As a director of research at an organization that seeks to strengthen the economies and health of Native peoples, panelist A-Dae Romero-Briones of the First Nations Development Institute emphasized how little support indigenous Americans’ agricultural initiatives receive. When discussing the metrics of local foods, or any component of our food system, it is crucial to address the needs of minority communities, to involve them in dialogue, and to listen and learn from them.

(L-R) Kathleen Merrigan, GW Food Institute Director, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME), Congressman Dan Newhouse (WA).

  • We need to talk about wasted food.

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Congressman Dan Newhouse were quick to point out that 40% of food produced in the United States is wasted. Thus, by failing to address the immense, fixable issue of wasted food we fail to discuss the whole of our food system. A truly economically and environmentally sustainable, equitable vision of our country’s food system must include a solution to our wasted food dilemma.