Recently by Rob King

Urban Agriculture Tour

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On August 31st, I spent the day touring urban agriculture here in the Twin Cities. More than 80 people from all segments of our community visited sites in both Minneapolis and St. Paul where people are growing good food in creative and inventive ways. The tour was organized by University of Minnesota Extension and the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research & Extension program.

The first tour stop featured the Urban Garden Youth Employment Summer 2010 Program and their inventive system of growing vegetables in lasagna beds - layers of organic matter placed on the asphalt along the edge of a parking lot. Other stops included rooftop farming in action and a visit to a mini farmers market on the Augsburg College campus in Minneapolis. We also toured J&J Distributing's 100,000 square foot facility that handles a full range of conventional, organic, and value added fresh and dried produce. That stop underscored the logistics challenges of distributing a diverse array of produce products to supermarkets and food service operations.

I drove home excited about all the energy there is in our community around growing and consuming food. I was also amazed by the ingenuity of the urban farmers we visited. At the same time, I was mindful of the challenges associated with scaling activities like urban farming up to the level that will feed significant numbers of people while vast expanses of fertile farmland exist not far from the city centers of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Our food system is evolving. Some of the experiments that are part of that evolution will be successful and others will not, but there is much to learn in the process.

For more information on urban agriculture activities in our community, visit the Twin Cities Urban Ag Connection at

USDA's National Agricultural Library web site on Urban Agriculture and Community Gardening is a great starting place for information about activities elsewhere around the country.

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The Little Known Local Foods Supply Chain

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Despite increasing consumer and policymaker interest in locally grown and processed foods, relatively little is known about the supply chains that move local foods from farms to consumers. Understanding the operation and performance of local foods supply chains is an initial step towards gauging how the food system might incorporate local foods in the future.

To learn more about this process, researchers conducted a coordinated series of case studies in five metropolitan areas stretching from Portland, OR to Washington, DC. Three supply chain types (mainstream supermarket, direct market from producer to consumer, and sale of a local product through a retail intermediary) were studied for each of the five product-place combinations. The case studies made it possible for researchers to compare the structure, size and performance of local food supply chains to mainstream supply chains.

Findings from the study, that began in late 2008, concluded:

• Local food products move through a variety of specialized and mainstream supply chains, but they currently account for a small percentage of consumer demand.

• Producers in local supply chains receive a greater share of retail prices than do producers in mainstream chains, but higher farm prices in local chains are sometimes offset by high marketing costs.

• Almost all economic activity in the local supply chains accrues locally, but mainstream food supply chains also make significant contributions to local economies.

• Products in local food supply chains travel fewer miles from farms to consumers, but fuel use per unit of product can be greater than in the corresponding mainstream chains due to logistical efficiencies that outweigh longer distances.

• Stable relationships with processors and internal investments in processing, packing, and distribution capabilities reduce market access constraints for local products, but per unit costs for these services are higher in local supply chains than in mainstream chains.

• Local supply chains often do not use infrastructure developed for mainstream channels or other local supply chains, but this may present an opportunity to increase product volumes and reduce per unit costs in response to growing demand for local food products.

This research was funded by the USDA's Economic Research Service. For a complete report on the study, see: Comparing the Structure, Size, and Performance of Local and Mainstream Food Supply Chains, USDA, Economic Research Service, ERR-99.

Extended versions of the case studies are also available on The Food Industry Center website.

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