Food production can be an important part of a city’s economic development strategy, strengthening the regional economy while expanding access to healthy, locally-grown food for residents. Cities can evaluate their food cluster, which includes all the businesses involved in growing, processing, transporting, and selling food in the city and surrounding areas. A city’s food cluster is often host to a range of small businesses, from farms and other food producers to the retailers who sell their products. These small businesses are essential to the creation and maintenance of jobs in the community, and cities should prioritize assistance for those businesses providing good wages and benefits. A city’s economic development strategy should include attention to localizing the food cluster, increasing its market share, and filling the growing demand for healthy, locally-produced food.
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What Cities Can Do
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To facilitate the coordination of producing, purchasing, and distributing local food, cities can create a food hub. Food hubs are organizations that support the local food chain at every step in the cycle. These can be cooperative, public-private partnerships that not only transport food, but also provide training for small farmers, help draft contracts with local buyers, and provide assistance for institutional purchasers. These food hubs can help balance supply and demand for food, assist local businesses in localizing their food products, and find seed funding for local farmers.
In 2009, San Francisco performed a complete food policy overhaul, and developed a Food Business Action Plan that included strategies for creating a holistic food chain within the community. The city also developed policies on zoning permits, tax incentives, and regulatory streamlining designed to promote both healthy eating and boost the local economy.
The Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center (WMFPC) has developed into a successful food hub, processing over 65,000 pounds of produce for local distribution in 2012.
Food Supply Chain
There are several opportunities for local economic development through food, many of which aim to shorten the food supply chain and bypass large-scale, industrial agriculture for locally grown food instead. Cities can work to minimize the amount of travel and number of people involved in the food supply chain by encouraging production on a local, small-scale level that doesn’t require long-distance shipment. Not only does this save transportation costs, it also creates local jobs. In addition, cities can keep food purchasing local.
Louisville, KY created a Farm to Table program that facilitates relationships between local farms, business, and schools.
Encouraging local procurement of food by hospitals, schools, hotels, and other large institutions in the city will support local producers, keep more profit recirculating in the regional economy, and continue to create jobs.
In 2009, Albany County, NY created an ordinance that established a yearly percentage of the food products used in County facilities that must be purchased from local farmers or producers.