Do ‘buy local’ campaigns help rural economies?

September 17, 2012 at 11:33 am

The discussion around healthy foods, sustainable agriculture, and local economies often centers around the idea of buying locally grown produce. The idea is that if more people  buy local goods, money will stay within the area to support local producers and create jobs. But today, the Daily Yonder asks if, in fact, buy local initiatives and policies are good for rural economies:

The question is simple: Will promoting locally grown foods actually foster economic growth in rural communities?  Or, on the other hand, does promoting local foods actually create more adverse unintended consequences than the programs are worth?

A review of existing studies show that while the income and employment effects are small, there have been net positive effects of farmers markets on local economies in West Virginia. In addition, Farm to School programs have been successful– but this success largely depends on the size of the school.

Looking at geographic patterns provides some more insight. The following maps group counties into three categories– metropolitan (grey), exurban and micropolitan (green), and rural (blue). They show that while a majority of rural counties are in the middle of the country, the demand for community-supported agriculture is largely on the coasts, in metropolitan areas, and in places with relatively  higher incomes than the most rural counties.

The implication is that support for local foods is primarily in urban areas. What does this mean for ‘buy local’ as a rural economic development policy? The authors of the Daily Yonder piece ask good questions– does it mean that rural areas are ripe for more local food initiatives and marketing? Are the impacts of such programming short-term, or do they constitute a long-term economic strategy for rural areas?

Ultimately, what it reinforces is that we can’t have a ‘one strategy fits all’ approach to economic development, whether in rural or urban areas. Clearly there is a demand for local foods in certain places, which should be supported and strengthened. But what is the relationship between that demand and the specific context of rural communities across America? Can a different but corresponding policy be developed to strengthen rural economies, while recognizing the interdependence of rural, suburban, exurban and urban economies?

Entry filed under: Agriculture Policy, Economic Development, Economy, Farm Policy, Healthy Foods, Jobs & Employment. Tags: , , .

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