A recent University of Wisconsin study will provide business strategies to help local Wisconsin farms meet increased demands for local food.
The UW Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and the UW Extension Agricultural Innovation Center studied 11 food aggregators — farmers who make food for sale — and distributors nationwide to develop business strategies to help farmers distribute local produce to larger markets.
According to the study, an increased interest in locally grown food has strained local farms’ ability to distribute enough produce to meet the new demands of restaurants, institutions and grocery stores, as well as farmers’ markets.
Michelle Miller, associate director for CIAS, said connections to environmental issues, family farms and local economies, as well as food safety scares, have driven consumer food demands.
“People want food they can trust,” she said. “They have a desire to know where their food comes from.”
To meet demands, local food systems must develop and expand production of the local food supply chain, the study said.
Rather than individually selling smaller amounts of produce, multiple farmers must come together to create greater amounts of produce for the wholesale market, the study said.
“When a typical grocery store is looking for food, they want it in certain quantities,” Miller said. “They want one delivery from one source.”
She added matching the scale between the farmer and the grocery store will become difficult.
The local food supply chain lacks aggregation and distribution systems to bring the produce to the market, the study said.
When trucks started shipping food across the country in the ’60s, the food system began to consolidate, Miller said.
Areas began only growing certain foods and, over the last 40 to 50 years, growing lost its diversity, she said, mentioning Wisconsin bagged the last carrot for wholesale in 2000.
“Consolidation in the distribution system and consolidation in the market… has really driven a move away from a localized food system,” Miller said.
However, by making food more local, it puts more resilience in the food system, she said.
Lauren Ledin, a UW sophomore, said she supports local farmers every weekend at the farmers’ market.
Ledin said she chooses to eat locally because she knows where the food is grown and enjoys the social, friendly atmosphere.
“It’s like going to a Mom and Pop grocery store,” she said. “They know what you like and what you want from them.”
Among other difficulties facing farmers, Miller said the increased price of local food remains an issue. However, he said more and more people understand small farmers can’t compete with larger quantities of product.
Despite higher prices, Ledin said buying locally supports farmers at home and keeps money within the local economy.
“It’s going to be more expensive, but if you care about what you are putting in your body, you may have to spend more in the long run,” she said.