CSU researchers lead team developing evaluation tool for local food system investments

farmers market

Dawn Thilmany, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, speaks with Wiseacres Greenhouse producer Kirsten Daniel at the Be Local Winter Farmer’s Market in Fort Collins, Feb. 11, 2012. Credit: Bill Cotton/CSU Photography

Between 2009 and 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture invested more than $1 billion in approximately 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects. However, little is known about the economic impact of these efforts. That is about to change, thanks to a new toolkit developed by a Colorado State University-led team.

The team, led by Dawn Thilmany, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, recently created and published “The Economics of Local Food Systems: A Toolkit to Guide Community Discussions, Assessments, and Choices.” The goal of the toolkit is to help communities reliably evaluate the economic impact of investing in local and regional food systems. According to the USDA, the toolkit will:

  • provide detailed guidance for communities to measure and assess the expected economic impacts of local food investments;
  • introduce real-world projects, experiences, and applied research that provide grounded, credible, and useable assessment methods;
  • support rigorous assessments of food system activities so that policy makers, community leaders, private businesses or foundations can decide whether to invest in initiatives that increase local food activity.

The toolkit was announced by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, on March 24 in Chicago. “Now community leaders have a toolkit that can help measure job creation and other economic development indicators, which will help make the case for continued investments,” Vilsack said during the announcement.

A collaborative effort

The toolkit is a collaboration between CSU experts and researchers from Cornell University, the University of Tennessee, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Iowa State University, and the University of Vermont. Work on the toolkit also included the Crossroads Resource Center and was funded by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

“The toolkit will benefit local governments and is the first of its kind with regard to providing best practices for framing studies that will better predict the community and economic impact of developing food systems,” Thilmany said.

Thilmany and the rest of the team are set to host several training sessions for the toolkit at conferences across the United States including at the U.S. Food Hub Conference, the Southern Regional Science Association Conference, the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference, and the Food Distribution Research Society’s Annual Conference. More information can be found at http://www.localfoodeconomics.com.

The team will host a national webinar on the toolkit, April 28th at 1 p.m. MST/3 p.m. EST. http://connect.extension.iastate.edu/colofood

About the Agricultural Marketing Service

Work on the toolkit was supported by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. The AMS was created in 1939 with the mission of creating marketing opportunities for US food and fiber producers, both domestically and abroad. For more information on AMS, visit www.ams.usda.gov.