By Graham Soley, apprentice at South Farm
Growing up in the suburbs of Louisville, KY, there is only so much one can learn about farming. Being an Agricultural Economics major, it is important to understand the basic science and mechanization of farming before managing or marketing products from one. Though much emphasis is put on the business aspects of my major, the political and economic issues are interesting because they engage direct issues about people. Being apart of the CSA is a different end of the spectrum compared to last summer, when I was working in the produce department at Kroger. I am in a position of assisting in the growth, harvest, and package of produce, instead of unloading and maintaining it on tables. I have received more vital information about food production from working at the CSA, and the production scales between the two operations brought important issues to light. The significance of CSAs, local businesses, and regional economic systems are fundamental to the future of economic growth for Kentucky and across America.
Having a sense of place, community, and history makes Kentucky and its local businesses, farmers, and residents unique. While there isn’t an exact definition of a local food system, they typically involve small to medium sized farms, heterogeneous products, and short supply chains. The recent industrialization of food has shifted the food system and rural economies in dramatic ways. According to a USDA study, between 1992 and 2007, the number of midsized farms in the U.S. fell by over 21 percent. This has produced a vacuum in rural areas around the country, with people finding work in the city and leaving rural economies fragile. Supporting regional businesses with fresh and value-added food products, helps farmers and shop owners receive a higher retail price. This result allows most in the supply chain, from farmer to shop owner, to afford to stay in business. An emphasis on regional product systems could have significant benefits. Increased economic activity in this regional food sector helps local communities maintain prosperity and job growth. Regional food and food-related product systems provide jobs besides manual labor because they require infrastructure such as communication, production, marketing, and transportation of products. Infrastructure to meet a potential increase in consumer demand translates into new farm jobs managing, producing, processing and marketing food and other products.
The same USDA study found farmers selling into regional markets generated thirteen full time operator jobs per one million in revenue, thus generating 61,000 jobs. Farm labor wasn’t included, and farms not following this market produced three full time jobs per one million dollars in revenue. More wages and local business income in local market chains are retained in the same economy. The presence of local farm markets increase access to whole and nutritious foods. With obesity rates costs so high, the weight needs to be put on healthier food access. Economic development from regional food systems can bring about small businesses, additional business incubators, restaurants, retailers, wholesale services, and distribution centers, all of these areas producing jobs. One could elaborate on the stewardship of the land most regional and family farmers practice, and the many other topics food systems affect. By working on a community supported agriculture farm, the sustainability and emphasis of support for those in the community and other local businesses has been impressive. It’s a great model of a farm for the future, and has the characteristics of a regional and sustainable economic system. With the state of the economy now, one has to think and innovate from the past to help bring prosperity to the present.