Counting local food consumption: Lessons from Vermont

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Counting local food consumption: Lessons from Vermont

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 5:36am -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine With interest growing in local food systems as a community development tool, scholars and practitioners are looking for methods to count progress toward benchmarks. A new article, Counting Local Food Consumption: Longitudinal Data and Lessons from Vermont, released by the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (JAFSCD) reports on efforts to count local food consumption as part of Vermont’s statewide strategic plan for food systems development. Authors of the article include David Conner, Community Development and Applied Economics associate professor at the University of Vermont; Florence Becot of the Ohio State University; Ellen Kahler, executive director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF); Jake Claro Farm to Plate director at VSJF; and Annie Harlow, executive committee at Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN).

The article provides longitudinal data from three waves of counting (2011, 2014, and 2017), and finds increases over time due to both increased food consumption and improved counting methods. The paper reflects on successes and challenges over the study period, focusing on data availability, key assumptions, and limitations. It concludes with future directions of inquiry into measuring food relocalization efforts.

Key Findings

  • Local food has long been seen as a conduit to economic and community development.
  • As interest in local food has grown, so has interest in measuring the economic contribution and impact of local food initiatives.
  • Until systematic and comprehensive tracking of local food sales is possible, local food consumption estimates should not be taken at face value due to large data gaps.
  • More work should aim at assessing the extent to which food relocalization efforts have broader social effects on the community.

Local Food and Beverage Consumption

In 2010, Farm to Plate set the target for local food consumption to reach 10% of total food consumption in the state by the year 2020. The thought was that such an increase would create economic growth in the state, including 1,500 net new jobs, new business creation and investment in infrastructure. To monitor progress toward that goal, a University of Vermont research team was commissioned to measure local food and beverage consumption in 2010, 2014, and 2017. Between 2010 and 2017, estimates indicate that the proportion of local food and beverage consumption has increased from 5% in 2010 to 9.7% in 2014 and 13.9% in 2017. When removing alcohol from the two and three data (since we did not collect data for beverages in wave one), we find that the proportion of local food consumed increased from 5% in 2010 to 9% in 2014 and 11.2% in 2017, exceeding the 2020 target of 10%.

In fact, this greater than anticipated increase in consumption resulted in 6,559 net new jobs and 742 net new businesses created from 2010-2017, according to a compilation of data sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau’s nonemployer statistics and the USDA’s Census of Agriculture.

“When the Farm to Plate Network first created the targets, the thinking was that if you increase consumption and demand of local food, production would need to increase to meet this new demand,” said Claro. “Increased production would then lead to more jobs for Vermonters and a stronger economy in our rural communities.”

Claro said Vermonters need to continue investing in their local food system because the collective investment makes a lasting impact for Vermont farmers, food businesses and rural communities.

“We are still too reliant on food grown and distributed from outside our region,” said Claro. “We want to make Vermont’s working landscape and rural communities more resilient in the face of climate change and food insecurity. That’s why we are continuing the work we’ve started.”


Farm to Plate is Vermont’s statewide food system plan implemented by 350+ member organizations of the Farm to Plate Network to meet the goals of legislation passed in 2009 calling for increased economic development and jobs in the farm and food sector and improved access to healthy local food for all Vermonters. Vermont’s farm to plate food system plan is the most comprehensive in the country and the only state that has complete government engagement. In 2019, Vermont Farm to Plate was reauthorized beyond 2020. The program is managed by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a non-profit organization based in Montpelier, Vermont.

Source: MONTPELIER, VT –​ 2.20.20