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Economic Impacts of Local Food Systems: Future Research Priorities

Jeffrey K. O'Hara, Rich Pirog


The recent growth in local food markets has resulted in various local food economic impact assessments. However, drawing overarching conclusions from these studies is difficult. Data collection is challenging, and the handful of studies with transparent and well-defined methodologies have generally used data and modeling techniques with narrow geographic and market scope. While these studies have found positive regional economic impacts, the impacts have been modest, and many economic aspects of local food systems remain unexamined. To address these issues, Michigan State University's Center for Regional Food Systems and the Union of Concerned Scientists' Food & Environment Program hosted a meeting among economists and local food researchers in order to synthesize and translate the findings of existing studies for local food practitioners and policy-makers. In this document, we briefly review the types of studies that have been conducted, identify criteria by which the effectiveness of studies can be evaluated, and discuss future research opportunities. The collective understanding of the relationship between local foods and economic development can be enhanced through improving data collection, undertaking studies on larger geographic scales that explicitly incorporate changes in diet, quantifying other economic attributes of local food systems in addition to the number of jobs, and forming a learning community to review and critique studies of the economic, social, and environmental benefits of local food systems.


Economic Development; Economic Impact; Input-Output Model; Local Food; Opportunity Cost

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