Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

February 23, 2013

Ag Forum: How do you define community food system?

The globalized industrial food system has been extremely successful providing us with an abundant supply of “inexpensive” food.

However, some have argued that the true cost of food has been externalized through environmental degradation (i.e. Deadzone in the Gulf of Mexico), the increasing obesity epidemic and associated health care costs, and food safety concerns and the cost of foodborne illness, to name a few.

While Americans spend less on food than any other developed country, it is the most vulnerable who spend a higher percentage of their income on food. On the production end, according to the USDA Economic Research Service, the farmers’ share of the consumers’ “Food Dollar” has declined to under 16 cents for every retail dollar. In contrast, farmers received nearly 50 percent of a consumer’s food dollar in 1950. Where does the other 84 cents go? It goes toward marketing, processing, wholesaling, distribution and retailing.

One definition of a community food system is one in which “food production, processing, distribution and consumption are integrated to enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of a particular place.” Mary Hendrickson at the University of Missouri suggests that in contrast to the linear and hierarchical relationships in the globalized, industrial food system where farmers and eaters are firmly separated, a community food system envisions a value chain where farmers are as important as consumers, distributors, processors and retailers.

In addition, there are several aspects of a community food system that distinguish it from the globalized food system. In a community food system, the food chain is shortened. Often consumers can purchase food directly from those who grow it. Relatedly, a higher percentage of food that is purchased is grown in the region.

Third, there is a focus on food access. Proponents of a community food system typically share an intentional effort to help get locally grown food into the hands and mouths of underserved residents. For example, many farmers markets in Michigan now accept EBT cards and Double Up Food Bucks.

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