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Local and Regional Food Systems

Importance of Promoting Local and Regional Food Systems

According to the National Strategy for Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, improving the health of everyone in this country—across all life stages—will require a better understanding of the complex causes and corresponding solutions of tackling food and nutrition insecurity, improving nutrition and physical activity, and reducing diet-related diseases and disparities. The most effective solutions will address the interrelated challenges across both food and nutrition security and climate change and work towards transforming national and global food systems. This work will include strategies to promote local and regional food systems, which have been shown to reduce food waste, support local economies, increase the biodiversity, freshness, and nutritional value of foods, and reduce food insecurity. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, there is no consensus on a definition of “local” or “local food systems” in terms of the geographic distance between production and consumption. Nevertheless, local and regional foods are increasingly being recognized as an important component to efforts to create more sustainable, resilient, healthier, and equitable food systems. 

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, local foods account for a small, but growing, share of US agricultural production. For smaller farms, direct marketing to consumers accounts for a higher percentage of their sales than for larger farms. Findings are mixed on the impact of local food systems on local economic development and better nutrition levels among consumers, and sparse literature is so far inconclusive about whether localization reduces energy use or greenhouse gas emissions. Notwithstanding, consumer demand for locally produced food is increasing and creating jobs and opportunity throughout rural America for farms, businesses, and entrepreneurs that store, process, market and distribute food locally and regionally. 

As described by the USDA Office of the Chief Economist, USDA supports many programs to strengthen America’s food systems, including through the Build Back Better Initiative, with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, and making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America. These and other priorities are highlighted in a document prepared for the UN Food Systems Summit and released on September 23, 2021, Pathways to More Sustainable, Resilient, and Inclusive U.S. Food Systems.

NIFA’s Impact

NIFA recognizes nutrition as a cost-effective approach to address many of the societal, environmental, and economic issues faced across the globe today. NIFA works to ensure a safe, nutritious, and secure food supply while also developing, delivering, and disseminating evidence-based nutrition education and promotion of local and regional food systems. Through numerous investments in research, Extension, and educational programs, grants, and initiatives, NIFA plays an important role in supporting local and regional agricultural and food systems. 

By strengthening local agricultural systems, NIFA helps foster the growth of thriving and resilient communities. These systems frequently involve farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture programs, farm-to-school initiatives, and direct-to-consumer marketing strategies. As one example, the NIFA administered Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) Year 3 impacts report found this program, which incentives the purchase of fruits and vegetables, created a $85 million dollar economic impact—a tenfold increase since Year 1. 

Selected NIFA AFRI Programs Requesting Local and Regional Food Systems Efforts

  • A1741 Center for Research, Behavioral Economics, and Extension on Food Loss and Waste: Supports research and Extension efforts that address food loss and waste issues 
  • A1701 Cross Cutting Critical Agricultural Research and Extension (CARE): Supports finding solutions to critical problems that impede the efficient production and protection of agriculturally important plants and animals through partnerships and close coordination among researchers, extension experts, and producers
  • A1541 Cross-Cutting Data Science for Food and Agriculture (DSFAS): Encourages data-supported innovation in agriculture by supporting initiatives that use big data to synthesize new information, make predictions, and do so.
  • A1344 Diet, Nutrition, and Prevention of Chronic Diseases: Supports programs that aim to improve food security and nutritional health outcomes for individuals and families living below the federal poverty line; see funded projects  
  • A1641 Economics, Markets, and Trade: Supports research on development of theories, methods, and applications of agricultural economics including agricultural market structure and performance; competitiveness in international trade and domestic markets; agricultural production and resource use; consumer behavior; farm labor and immigration and policy; agricultural policy design and impacts; technology development and adoption; and science and innovation policy
  • A1332 Food Safety and Defense: Promotes scientific and applied research to lessen the risk of intentional or inadvertent food contamination.
  • A1343 Food and Human Health: supports projects that explore the interrelationships of foods or components of foods and their impact on the gut microbiota to improve human health.
  • A1366 Mitigating Antimicrobial Resistance across the Food Chain: Supports interdisciplinary teams in developing, refining, and disseminating scientific knowledge concerning food and agriculture management and production techniques that can minimize or reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) along the food chain.   
  • A1511 Nanotechnology for Agricultural and Food Systems: Promotes the scientific framework for addressing consumer demand for safe and healthy meals through a transdisciplinary approach, as well as defining previously unrecognized prospects for enhancing food safety, quality, and nutrition along the value chain.
  • A1364 Novel Foods and Innovative Manufacturing Technologies: Contribute to the advancement of food manufacturing competitiveness to ensure a more sustainable, resilient, and nutritious food supply. Ensure the quality, safety, and nutritional value of innovative meals and food ingredients, especially pulse-based products.
  • A1712 Rapid Response to Extreme Weather Events Across Food and Agricultural Systems: Supports the rapid deployment of strategies designed to fill knowledge and information gaps to protect the nation’s food and agricultural supply chains, from production through consumption, during and after extreme weather and disasters
  • A1531 Biorefining and Biomanufacturing: Supports the improvement and expansion of production efficiency and capacity of biomass, biofuels, chemical feedstocks, renewable energy, and bio-based products 
  • A1601 Small and Medium Sized Farms: Supports the development and/or adoption of new models to assist agriculture (farm, forest, or ranch) landowner/manager decision making, with respect to appropriate scale management strategies and technologies to enhance economic efficiency and sustainability; including the viability and competitiveness of small and medium-sized dairy, poultry, livestock, crop, forestry and other operations
  • A1642 Social Implications of Food and Agricultural Technologies: Encourages the study of technology's social implications as a method of technology assessment that foresees the unexpected and unintended effects of technological progress, including cultural, health, welfare, equitable, ethical, and environmental issues
  • A9201 Sustainable Agricultural Systems: Promotes the sustainable supply of abundant, affordable, safe, nutritious, and accessible food and other agricultural products, while enhancing economic opportunities and improving the long-term health and well-being of all Americans
  • A1721 USDA Climate Hubs Partnership: Supports the delivery of science-based, region specific information and technologies to agricultural and natural resource managers to enable climate-informed decision-making and provide access to assistance to implement those decisions

Other Selected NIFA Relevant Programs 

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