Strengths and Challenges in Building Local Food Systems

Leigh Adcock indicated in an Iowa State University Extension publication that, “As demand for locally grown foods continues to rise, more Iowans are taking a look at the factors that affect the creation of expansion of local food systems in their communities. As the name implies, a local food system encompasses many factors, including producers, markets, nutritional education, institutional buyers such as schools and hospitals, built infrastructure, processing, and much more.

To get an accurate picture of the enabling and hindering factors affecting a community takes strategic analysis and candid, sometimes difficult, conversations. One process that communities can use to analyze their strengths and challenges is through the ‘community capitals’ framework: examining how community members rank their own status in seven areas: social capital, human capital, political capital, cultural capital, built capital, financial capital, and natural capital.”

Ms. Adcock provided this summary of recent research related to “community capitals” analysis:

  1. Relationships are key to creating a successful local food system.
  2. Availability of skilled farm labor can be a challenge, particularly in rural areas.
  3. Couching local foods efforts in terms of personal and community health can increase interest from general audiences in local foods work.
  4. Federal farm policy had was not viewed as having much of an impact on local foods systems, positive or negative.
  5. All communities reported challenges with engaging diverse populations in their local foods systems work.
  6. Communities value their food coops, food hubs, and natural food stores, not only as markets and sources of healthy, locally grown foods, but as hubs for information and education for the general public on the value of local food systems.
  7. Researching, writing, and collaborating on grant proposals is time-consuming and challenging, but can pay off for large-scale projects. Successfully completing and publicizing a grant project can lead to more funding opportunities in a region.
  8. Natural capital was not a significant factor for any of the communities.

More details regarding the Iowa State research on local food systems is available here: “Determining Factors for Local Food System Success.”

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