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Why Community, Local, and Regional?
You might wonder why the descriptors ‘community, local, and regional’ precede the words food system. Let’s start with the community and why it is an important descriptor and part of the food system. The food system that makes food available and accessible is an important component of community economic development and indicator of social well-being within a community and region. Yet, food and the food system is often overlooked as a connector and undervalued as a means and strategy for building health, wealth, connection and capacity where food is produced and most needed (Meter, 2011). At the same time, U.S. families and households spend over $1.46 trillion on food each year. In 2014, food purchases were the third largest household expenditure after housing and transportation. Hence, the potential for impact and change at a community level is significant.
A community-focused food system is a collaborative network that integrates and encourages sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management in order to enhance the environmental, economic and social health of a particular place. The work entails being civic-minded and being vested in the well-being of everyone in the community. Therefore, a community-focused food system must be cultivated and nurtured by local leadership engaging farmers, consumers and communities to create a more resilient locally-based, self-reliant food system, and economy.
Through the years, the words ‘local’ and ‘regional’ have been usedas descriptors of food miles, geographic proximity, product identity, and a sense of place such as a specific county, multi-county area, or known region. Additionally, the words have been used to encourage deeper, more transparent conversations from field to fork to help consumers know where their food comes from and for farmers to better tell their stories.
From an economic development perspective, the emphasis on community, local, and regional is a nested approach to development. The approach seeks to strategically benefit neighborhoods, towns, cities, and counties at a granular level from the ground up. The development precept and understanding is that if local towns, cities, and counties are vibrant and strong socially, economically, and environmentally, the impact and effects of community and local food system development will be noticeable at the regional and state levels as well.
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.
June 10, 2019