Did you know that more than 90% of American farms are considered small farms? This means that a very large percentage of farms in the US make less than $250,000, and most are family owned (Small and Family Farms, n.d.). Florida itself has 47,400 farms spanning 28% of Florida’s land with many of these likely small family farms based on the national percentage (Florida, n.d.). Agriculture is Florida’s second largest industry producing over 300 different commodities and contributing billions of dollars to the state’s GDP(Florida, n.d.). Florida’s top commodities include various crops, Floriculture, oranges, sugarcane, and cattle. It is 2nd in the world for citrus production, 10th in the nation for beef cattle, 4th for honey, 2nd in ornamental plants, and over 50% of US sugar comes out of Florida (McAvoy, n.d.). With agriculture being such a vital industry to the nation and our state specifically, it is important to understand what locally produced food is, and the impact of supporting local producers including the benefits of having farms, how consumers have viewed and supported local farms, and ways producers can better promote their locally produced commodities.
What actually is local food? In general, it can be considered something that is “consumed within 100 miles of where it was produced,” though consumers can have varying definitions of what local food is to them (Hodges et. al., 2014). Some Florida consumers have considered it as narrow as within their own city or town while others can go as broad as saying from within the southeast U.S. region (Hodges et. al., 2014). Local farms can supply farmers markets, U-Pick experiences, retail produce and commodities, and other purchase avenues. No matter how a consumer’s definition might vary, local food produced generally within a nearby region can have its benefits to the wellbeing of the environment, economy, and community.
Farms and locally produced goods are very beneficial to the economy and our ecosystems. Local food has been known to have “superior freshness, flavor, nutrition, shelf life, and safety relative to nonlocal foods” as well as provide “greater sustainability, support for local communities and economies,” and relationships with local producers (Hodges et. al., 2014). From an economical standpoint, supporting locally produced goods can lessen the need for imported commodities since they act as a substitute. Florida dairy specifically is mostly consumed within the state. Additionally, over 150,000 jobs have resulted from local food purchase impacts. Intangible benefits of farms in general include them providing habitat and food for wildlife, a means for agro/eco-tourism, a method of water recharge, a potential mechanism to keep water from travelling to ecologically sensitive areas, and a use for reclaimed water(McAvoy, n.d.). Farms help to support rural populations and provide a way to “protect and enhance natural resources and the environment” (Small and Family Farms, n.d.). While contributing to the US food supply is one of the more direct benefits of local food, there are many other reasons to buy local, which consumers often do as seen by statistics.
A substantial amount of local food is purchased and consumed locally. The University of Florida Food and Resource Economics Department’s extension scientist, associate dean and professor, and a research associate conducted a study that surveyed Florida households on characteristics of consumers and their impacts economically on their local food purchases (Hodges et. al., 2014). Of those who responded, 20.1% of the food they purchased for at-home consumption was locally sourced, and 16.1% of purchased food through retail was local. Over half of those who responded purchased local food from grocery stores. Likewise, 62% of the responses indicated purchases were made at farmers’ markets, food stands, and U-pick operations. On an annual basis, $1114 of the $5082 spent by consumers on food was locally sourced. This number was extrapolated to $8.314 billion spent annually on local foods in FL in 2011-2012. These results indicate that consumers purchase a substantial amount of their food from local sources and the efforts of the Fresh from Florida campaign “has been effective in raising consumer awareness about local food.”
Why should local food be purchased? As mentioned previously, there are various benefits, and consumers see this. According to consumer focus groups, there tends to be five main reasons to purchase local food(Roper and Rumble, 2018). First, consumers like the idea of supporting local businesses and the economy. The money goes more directly to the producer, and it promotes local jobs through buying local. There is usually a more personal touch to the transaction than purchasing from a large corporation as well. Second, consumers perceive local to be higher quality since it is fresher, not frozen, has less preservatives, and comes from producers with reputability. Third, the social interaction of the purchase appeals to consumers. They are able to directly talk to the farmers and know where their food is coming from. Fourth, local food can be more affordable according to some consumers, but this is not always the case. In fact, a study found that farmers’ market shoppers are actually willing to pay 76% more for local foods, and retail prices for local foods range from 8.7%-20.8% more, which can be a benefit for the producers (Hodges et. al., 2014). Fifth, purchasing local has environmental benefits due to less of a distribution process. According to consumers, it can lower the carbon footprint by creating less trash due to local food often not having the plastic packaging.
Because of its benefits to the environment, community, and economy, it is important to support local agriculture. Continued communication is important to raise awareness for agriculture’s impact. Producers can emphasize their locality, freshness, and other characteristics of their local products through their packaging and marketing to promote their commodities in their communities. Resources such as the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture can also be utilized by producers. With Florida having an abundance of crops, livestock, and other agricultural commodities, what better place to shop than through buying local?
Florida. (n.d.) U of A Division of Agriculture Research & Extension Economic Impact of Agriculture. https://economic-impact-of-ag.uada.edu/florida/
Hodges, A.W., et. al. (2014, May) Local and Regional Food Systems in Florida: Values and Economic Impacts. Journal of Agricultural & Applied Economics, 46(2), 285-298. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1074070800000791
McAvoy, G. (n.d.). Economic Impact of Agriculture in Florida [PowerPoint slides]. UF/IFAS Hendry County Extension, University of Florida. https://flmanagers.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Florida-Ag-Impact-Presentation.pdf
Roper, C. G., and Rumble, J. N. (2018, Feb. 6). Talking Local: Florida Consumers’ Reasons For Purchasing Local Food. UF IFAS Extension University of Florida. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/wc176
Small and Family Farms. (n.d.) National Institute of Food and Agriculture United States Department of Agriculture. https://nifa.usda.gov/topic/small-and-family-farms