“Local food is the best path for economic recovery,” said Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Institute. “We need to rebuild our economy from the inside and not wait for the United States Department of Agriculture to do something about it."
Meter was in Boise recently to deliver a report titled “Local Foods as Economic Recovery” on the economics of local food and agriculture systems. The study focused on a nine-county region that encompasses Southwest Idaho and Northeast Oregon.
Idaho is one of the nation’s top producers of wheat, milk, cheese, onions, potatoes and dry beans. Nationally, according to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, we rank in the top 10 for production of 26 different crops and livestock. Yet most of that food leaves the state and we receive about 98 percent of the foods we consume here from outside sources. To the casual observer, our food chain appears to be running bass-ackwards.
Meter pointed out that the current food production system removes wealth from rural producers and communities instead of leaving it where it is needed most: the local economy. He also revealed that, nationwide, farmers' earnings today are the same as they were during the Great Depression.
Treasure Valley consumers spend $1.87 billion on food each year, yet $1.7 billion worth of that food comes from outside our region. According to Meter, if consumers bought just 15 percent of their fresh produce from a local farm or at a farmers market, it would be enough to produce $165 million in new farm income per year. Imagine what could happen if we all bought 50-75 percent of our produce, meat and dairy from local sources. “If you don’t invest in local production it won’t grow any higher,” Meter said.
Meter’s message is timely as national and local economies are down. Local food production could be one way to help turn the local economy around.
Meter’s presentation, which provided an economic baseline for measuring progress in our region, is the first in a two-phase assessment of ourlocal food economy. The first assessment was sponsored by the Treasure Valley Food Coalition, which is a branch of Sustainable Community Connections. The upcoming 2010 City Harvest Celebration on September 4 will help fund phase two.