The middle of the local food chain


by Ben Lilliston | June 30, 2009 • One of the challenges of transitioning toward a more locally based food system in the United States is that our current infrastructure disagrees with the idea. During the last 50 years, U.S. farm policy has told farmers to “get big or get out.” We’ve encouraged farmers to grow single crops for export, animal feed or as ingredients in processed foods. Now, even though we’re witnessing the problems with this industrial system in the form of food contamination outbreaks, the loss of family farmers, and damage to the environment and public health, it’s hard to quickly change course.

Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.

We know change is happening on the supply side of the food system. Consumers are demanding more locally grown foods. Farmers markets are continuing to grow in popularity. But the local food market is still a small percentage of the larger food marketplace. Currently, it’s difficult for mid-sized farmers to find buyers large enough to guarantee a local food market. And many larger food purchasers are having trouble finding the supply of locally produced food that they need. How do we scale up?

Compass Group is one of the largest food service companies in the U.S. They supply food to universities, restaurants, hospitals and companies around the country. Last week, Compass announced a new effort called “Ag in the Middle.” The idea is to expand the company’s local food purchasing with a goal to develop partnerships with 2,013 farmers by 2013. IATP is partnering with Compass on the project.

It’s time to start smoothing out those bumps in the middle of the local food chain.

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