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The Economic Impacts of Local Foods in Southeast Iowa

October 21, 2009

       The Leopold Center at Iowa State University recently released a study on the economic impact of local foods.  In this study, researchers isolated Davis, Jefferson, Keokuk, Mahaska, Van Buren and Wapello counties in Southeastern Iowa to analyze the effects of switching agricultural production from export oriented crops (corn, soy) to locally demanded crops (fruits and vegetables). This region currently uses 53 percent of its agricultural land for growing corn and 40 percent for growing soybeans. The scenarios proposed by this study substitute export-oriented corn and soybean production for locally consumed fruit and vegetable production to measure the potential value of locally grown foods.

     This study examined two scenarios of possible transitions to producing local foods. The first scenario involves growing eight fruits and vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, greens, squashes, beans, potatoes, eggplant & apples) to meet local market demand. After a number of considerations, including transitions from corn or soy to fruits and vegetables and seasonality, this study finds a net gain of 5.3 jobs within the region, infusing $215,350 in labor incomes into the regional economy. The second scenario uses the same framework at the first study, with an expansion to 22 fruits and vegetables grown locally. In this scenario, 11.6 jobs would be created, infusing $475,870 in labor incomes into the local economy.

            This study continues to find ways to increase local focus of the economy. It finds that the expansion of local chicken and egg production has huge potential.  Were the region to supply 25 percent of regional consumers’ chicken and egg purchases, an additional $1.88 million per year would be kept within the local economy. Additionally, this study finds that more jobs can be created through direct retailing of locally produced fruits and vegetables compared to an export-oriented production system.

               This study provides considerable quantifiable evidence of the economic benefits of growing and buying local foods. Not only does buying locally support the local community, it keeps money within the regional economy and strengthens the connections between local producers and local consumers. Overall, this study shows that a transition to growing fruits and vegetables locally can be a huge gain for rural communities, and can substantially increase regional jobs and incomes.

       Read the full study on the Leopold Center Website at

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