How Does Your Community Food Forest Really Fit Into the Local Food System?

Hazlenuts forming on a tree in Hazelwood Food Forest, Pittsburgh, PA in 2014

Hazelnuts forming on a tree in Hazelwood Food Forest, Pittsburgh, PA in 2014. Hazelnuts can be produced through agroforestry and sold locally for their nut and oil products as part of a local and regional food system.

Free Food Can Feed the Local Food System

Community Food Forests are often promoted for contributing to locally available fresh food and the local food system. However, they are also open to the public for free harvesting and many local food systems rely on economics to function and provide local producers with a living, so how exactly do community food forests fit into the local food system with their new perspective on providing free food to people? This is an important point to consider in regards to applying for local funding sources and planning food forests open to the public into the landscape. Even though the food produced in community food forests is intended to be free to the public, it does have economic advantages for the local food system. People, who are local consumers, are introduced to foods they may have not been exposed to previously or known could be produced locally and may be more apt to purchase those products from locally grown farms, particularly ones that are using agroecological methods such as agroforestry, permaculture and whole-farm systems.

 NEWS- The Local Food System Toolkit Released!!!

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled a new resource yesterday created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Colorado State University that will help communities and businesses evaluate the economic benefits of investing in local food systems. The Local Food System Toolkit was developed by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to help communities reliably evaluate the economic impact of investing in local and regional food systems. The Local Food System Toolkit provides detailed guidance in seven modules to measure and assess the expected economic impacts of local food investments. Using real-world projects, experiences, and applied research, it provides grounded, credible, and usable assessment methods.

The Local Food System Toolkit can be used by policy makers, community leaders, private businesses or foundations to offer specific estimates that will help them decide whether to invest in initiatives that increase local food activity.

Food SystemBackground on the Toolkit

The idea for the Toolkit emerged from meetings hosted by Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems and the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program. The meetings were held on January 31 and February 1, 2013, in order to synthesize and translate the findings of existing studies for local food practitioners and policymakers. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA AMS) selected and commissioned a team of regional economists and food system specialist, coordinated by Dr. Dawn Thilmany McFadden, to develop a Toolkit of best practices for evaluating the economic impact of local food system initiatives.

Additional Resources

eXtension Community of Practice on Community, Local and Regional Food Systems

This resource is hosted by the Community, Local and Regional Food Systems (CLRFS) Community of Practice. It is designed to provide information and networking opportunities for educators, community-based practitioners, policy makers, farmers/growers, families, and those individuals involved in building equitable, health-promoting, resilient, and economically balanced food systems. Join them on Facebook.

eXtension Economics of Local Food Systems website

Provides a road-map to the Toolkit to make the 100+ pages easier to navigate.

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