Center for Fair & Alternative Trade

Colorado State University

“Evaluating the Community Economic Impacts of Policies Supporting Alternative Food Systems” by Becca Jablonski

Presented by Becca Jablonski - PhD in the Dept of City and Regional Planning at Cornell and Postdoctoral Fellow in the Dept of Agricultural and Resource Economics at CSU

On Thursday, September 20, 2014, Becca Jablonski Postdoctoral Fellow in the Dept of Agricultural and Resource Economics, CSU (PhD in the Dept of City and Regional Planning at Cornell) presented research on “Evaluating the Community Economic Impacts of Policies Supporting Alternative Food Systems”. This research is motivated by a desire to support rural community economic development.

Jablonski presented evidence that rural development policy in the US has faced significant challenges, evidenced by nonmetro poverty rates higher than metro poverty since 1959 and the first net population loss in nonmetro counties (since 2010) in US history.

In search of new opportunities to support rural communities, economies, and farmers, the Obama administration and the USDA, under Secretary Vilsack, have elevated local and regional food systems as a development strategy. Despite over $337M from the USDA in funding these efforts from 2009-2012, there has been little to no evidence-based evaluation of the economic impact of these policies to regional economies or participating farms. Further, there is not an agreed upon methodology for evaluation.

Jablonski presented her research (conducted with Todd Schmit and David Kay at Cornell; funded by the USDA AMS, NESARE, and the USDA NIFA) that develops a best-practice methodology to evaluate the economic impact of food hubs to participating farms and local economies. Through applying the methodological framework to a case study food hub in New York State, their research found that food hubs increase market access for farms, particularly those that are mid-scale.

Additionally, this research shows a gross output multiplier of 1.82, indicating that for every dollar of final demand for food hub products, an additional $0.82 is generated in related industrial sectors. However, the community economic impact of food hubs is not pure, as an increase in final demand for food hub output diverts sales from other local wholesale and distribution businesses. The research also shows that farms that sell through food hubs have differential expenditure patterns than farms that do not, and that capturing these differences is important in assessing economic impact.

Jablonski concluded by talking about her new research project (funded by USDA ERS and the USDA AFRI) that looks at the rural and farm-level impacts of urban-based local food system initiatives.