Heck, yes, local food creates jobs.


Yesterday, the USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program released a new report and an interactive website that illustrate how USDA programs help build local and regional food systems. Among the findings in the report: Every $1million in farm income from local and regional markets creates an average of 13 farm operator jobs.

This morning, NPR responded with their take: Local food is about food, and the USDA’s attempt to explain it in terms of jobs is an attempt to defend local food programs in a contentious political climate. The jobs argument, the article implies, is a tenuous one. “Hey, Locavores,” the title asks, “are you creating jobs?”

Well, with respect, our answer is a resounding “yes.”

Small businesses form in response to unmet consumer demand for a product. When they succeed, that creates jobs. In this case, those businesses are farms, and the product is fresh local food. The jobs are still jobs.

At RAFI, we know this first-hand. Our Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund gives small grants – an average of $10,000 – to farm enterprises that are modeling creative new ways to make a living on the farm.

Last year, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro evaluated the impact of those grants over a three-year period. What they found was staggering.

  • Each of our grants created an average of 11 new jobs within one year.
  • For every one dollar awarded to a farmer, they traced $205 new dollars of economic activity in the state within one year.
  • In total, the program awarded $3.6 million in three years to 367 farmers, created 4,100 new jobs, and had an economic impact of more than $733 million.

Why does it work? We believe it’s because farmers know their business, know their communities, and have a lot at stake. They already have equipment, buildings, land, and expertise that they can re-purpose. And there’s another benefit for rural economies: family farmers don’t pick up and move overseas.

The farmers in our program demonstrate that a little assistance can have a big impact. So when it comes down to evaluating the importance of local and regional food systems and the programs that support them, we think jobs are a great place to start. If you want to have a big impact on the economies of rural communities, it’s hard to find a better bet than a family farmer.

Hear these farm entrepreneurs’ stories at www.rafiusa.org/ncfarmervoices. The farmers supported by our grant program include former tobacco farmers marketing purple sweet potatoes, a former contract poultry farmer who turned an old poultry house into a barn for her goats, a group of farmers forming a prawn-growing cooperative, and more.

Thanks to the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission for its support of the Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund.

Economics wonks, feel free to download a copy of the complete economic impact study.