The act of buying locally grown food rebuilds local economies while reconnecting us with our food supply. Supporting a local food infrastructure in Kentucky would create jobs and support our rural communities, which have seen job upon job milked away by industrialized farming techniques killing communities and draining us of our farming culture. It would make sense then that municipalities would support this sort of development, especially in tough economic times as these. Well, wait no more – well, at least if you live in Illinois.
“The legislation establishes a council to develop a fresh farm and food system in the state, and it creates a system that allows buyers for state agencies to pay up to 10 percent above the lowest bid when purchasing locally grown foods. It also sets a goal for state-owned agencies to increase their purchase of locally grown foods each year so that 20 percent of their food purchase is spent on Illinois-grown foods by 2020.
Currently, an estimated 4 percent of the money Illinois residents spend on food each year is for products grown in the state, and just several hundred of the state’s 76,000 farmers are producing for the local market, according to a task force report.”
The statistics for Kentucky are very similar and without a law like this our farmers are very unlikely to change from growing corn and tobacco to a more diversified approach. Farmers as of now have more incentive to produce grains and tobacco because they know that they will be able to sell their crop to large institutional buyers. The new Illinois law does just that. It creates institutional buyers that then support a diversified market where farmers can get a premium for their crop, which creates confidence and a financial incentive to grown more of what we need here – healthy sustainable food.
Another thing that we could use more of is economic development. A dollar spent at home is worth a lot more to our community that a dollar spent in another state or country. This is called the “multiplier effect”. The Community Farm Alliance explains its impact as it specifically relates to Kentucky:
“First, local production and marketing keep a greater percentage of the food dollar within the community and increase regional wealth through the multiplier effect… the Kentucky employment multiplier for agricultural production is estimated at 1.3 and the multiplier for local food processing is 1.5, and these figures are still considered reasonable. Thus, 10 new farm jobs in Kentucky would generate three additional jobs in the farm service sector of the local economy, and 10 new local processing jobs would generate six additional jobs in the community. An income multiplier effect also applies to regional cash generation. According to these multipliers, every $1,000 increase in net farm income would generate an additional $930 of income in the community, creating a total of $1930 of new wealth. Using these multipliers, the Cornucopia report estimated that the high level of food imports in 1980 cost Kentucky 126,000 jobs. Current estimates find that if Kentucky were to raise its per farm average direct marketing sales to the national average, it would generate an additional farm-level income of $7.9 million and have an estimated statewide economic impact of $15.8 million.“
Another interesting point is that the USDA has recently announced its new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, a program that “reserves hundreds of millions of dollars in existing USDA grants, loans and loan guarantees for improving local food infrastructure,” and you know what that means, actual funding for actual change towards a stronger, healthier community.
So what can we learn from our neighbor? That state legislation plus real federal backing that allows the people to make the change they need can mean truly sustainable institutional change. Maybe it’s about time that we marry some of their good ideas with some old fashion Kentucky know-how and rebuild our own farming infrastructure. After all, with all of the attacks that the tobacco industry has faced over the years we can only expect that more farmers will be without jobs in the near future, and you can never get enough healthy food.