Growing Local: Case Studies on Local Food Supply Chains

Growing Local: Case Studies on Local Food Supply Chains

Growing Local: Case Studies on Local Food Supply Chains

Growing Local: Case Studies on Local Food Supply Chains


In an increasingly commercialized world, the demand for better quality, healthier food has given rise to one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. food system: locally grown food. Many believe that "relocalization" of the food system will provide a range of public benefits, including lower carbon emissions, increased local economic activity, and closer connections between consumers, farmers, and communities. The structure of local food supply chains, however, may not always be capable of generating these perceived benefits.

Growing Local reports the findings from a coordinated series of case studies designed to develop a deeper, more nuanced understanding of how local food products reach consumers and how local food supply chains compare with mainstream supermarket supply chains. To better understand how local food reaches the point of sale, Growing Local uses case study methods to rigorously compare local and mainstream supply chains for five products in five metropolitan areas along multiple social, economic, and environmental dimensions, highlighting areas of growth and potential barriers. Growing Local provides a foundation for a better understanding of the characteristics of local food production and emphasizes the realities of operating local food supply chains.


Miguel I. Gómez and Michael S. Hand

The term local foods conjures vivid and specific images among consumers, food connoisseurs, and scholars. Many people think of the fresh young vegetables and the first ripe strawberries that appear in farmers markets in the spring and the apples and winter squash that herald fall’s arrival at the end of the market season. For others, what comes to mind is a roadside farm stand, discovered by accident during a Saturday drive out of town and packed with a variety of straight-from-the-field produce. More and more, the picture of local foods also includes signs in supermarkets identifying certain products as local, and stories from farmers about how their food was produced.

These images are a growing part of how people think about their food when they fill their grocery cart (or canvas bag or farm share box). Yet these images tell only a part of the story. Where we purchase food and where it comes from (in particular, its geographic origin) does not always reveal how local food gets to the point of sale or why it is sold touting some characteristics and not others. the promotional flyer we might read at the supermarket meat counter about the nearby farmer of grass-fed beef likely does not describe the importance of interdependent business relationships between the farm, slaughterhouse, and retailer. Neither does the bin full of the season’s first apples at the farmers market tell you about the grower’s significant investment in transportation and marketing activities that allow him to sell in multiple markets each week.

The stories behind the images describe the people, processes, and relationships—that is, all the segments of the supply chain—that put local . . .

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