Economic Impacts of Local Food Systems: Future Research Priorities


  • Jeffrey K. O'Hara Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Rich Pirog Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems



Economic Development, Economic Impact, Input-Output Model, Local Food, Opportunity Cost


The recent growth in local food markets has resulted in various local food economic impact assessments. However, drawing overarching conclusions from these studies is difficult. Data collection is challenging, and the handful of studies with transparent and well-defined methodologies have generally used data and modeling techniques with narrow geographic and market scope. While these studies have found positive regional economic impacts, the impacts have been modest, and many economic aspects of local food systems remain unexamined. To address these issues, Michigan State University's Center for Regional Food Systems and the Union of Concerned Scientists' Food & Environment Program hosted a meeting among economists and local food researchers in order to synthesize and translate the findings of existing studies for local food practitioners and policy-makers. In this document, we briefly review the types of studies that have been conducted, identify criteria by which the effectiveness of studies can be evaluated, and discuss future research opportunities. The collective understanding of the relationship between local foods and economic development can be enhanced through improving data collection, undertaking studies on larger geographic scales that explicitly incorporate changes in diet, quantifying other economic attributes of local food systems in addition to the number of jobs, and forming a learning community to review and critique studies of the economic, social, and environmental benefits of local food systems.


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Author Biographies

Jeffrey K. O'Hara, Union of Concerned Scientists

Agricultural Economist, Union of Concerned Scientists; 1825 K Street, NW Suite 800; Washington, D.C. 20006 USA; +1-202-331-6944.

Rich Pirog, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems

Senior Associate Director, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems; 480 Wilson Road, Room 313 (Natural Resources Building); East Lansing, Michigan 48824 USA.



How to Cite

O’Hara, J. K., & Pirog, R. (2013). Economic Impacts of Local Food Systems: Future Research Priorities. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 3(4), 35–42.