Critical Reflections on the USDA Local Food Economics Toolkit
AbstractIn this paper we report the results of a field test of an economic impact toolkit recently commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The toolkit was created as a guide for food systems organizations to frame issues and collect and analyze data in order to credibly measure economic and other benefits of their initiatives. To test the toolkit, we applied it to an economic contribution study of a local food-buying program in a large regional hospital in Vermont. Our findings indicate that by working with a dedicated and motivated community partner, we were able to agree on the scope and objectives of the project, obtain high-quality data, and enter these data into an input-output model to measure broader economic contributions (Modules 1 though 6 of the toolkit). We experienced difficulty, however, in obtaining data from a sufficient number of the hospital’s vendors to modify the model from its default settings to better reflect local food system actors’ purchase patterns (the subject of Module 7). Our experience suggests that practitioners need to work with community partners and consider which stages of the analysis meet their project objectives; in particular, they should focus on the difficulty and expense of incorporating Module 7. Our implications focus on strategies for decreasing the cost and effort of data collection for Module 7.
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