Now imagine that every single household in the state prepared at least one meal from that local produce once a week.
It’s the kind of daydream that drives farmers, and conscientious consumers to wonder, “What if …”
For the first time, we can begin to paint a picture of what that scenario would look like, thanks to a new study conducted by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, and funded by Georgia Organics.
“The Local Food Impact: What if Georgians Ate Georgia Produce?” explores the potential economic impact of Georgia consumers purchasing more locally grown food products.
The study reports that, if each of the approximately 3.7 million households in the state devoted $10 per week to locally grown products from Georgia, it would add more than $1.9 billion back into the state’s economy.
The results of the study are one of the strongest demonstrations so far of what a small change in consumer behavior could mean for farmers, and for entire state.
There are many other incredible findings as well. The study reviewed all the agricultural products raised, grown, and sold in Georgia (called the state’s Farm Gate Value and found that produce is a measly 9 percent, while poultry comprises nearly half of the state’s agriculture output.)
The study also found that Georgians eat less than the national average of locally grown food. The study’s authors generated scenarios that approximate what agriculture production would be like if Georgians consumed the national average of locally grown food. Currently, direct farmer to consumer sales contribute 132 jobs, $4.5 million in labor income, and $14.4 million in sales.
If Georgia vegetable, melon, fruit, and nut farms increased direct farm-to-consumer produce sales to the national average level, the result would be an overall statewide contribution of 228 jobs, $8.1 million in labor income, and $25.8 million in sales.
The authors also analyzed the potential of individual crops as well. For example, the average Georgian eats about 30 pounds of fresh lettuce per year, yet the state grows less than 245,000 pounds per year – far below the amount of lettuce Georgians consume.
“I want to start a lettuce campaign,” “We eat more than 285 million pounds of lettuce and right now we are only growing less than one-tenth of one percent of that. That gap is enormous, and we are talking about huge economic gains for the state.”
If all of the lettuce consumed by Georgians were produced and sold in the state, it would mean an additional $83.6 million of direct revenue for farmers. Likewise, if all of the carrots consumed by Georgians were produced and sold within the state, there could be an additional $12.8 million in direct revenue or sales.
In all, when considering the other crops Georgia produces, the state is losing out on more than $780 million. “The climate is in our favor. We can grow these crops well and we can grow them year round,” says Alice Rolls, Georgia Organics executive director. “We should be looking at data like this to make strategic decisions about what we plant here. And, we need to think beyond farmers markets. We have to create networks and build distribution systems that close these gaps.
“We’re a big agricultural state and small farms are the ones that could take advantage of the direct to consumer market. But we don’t have that model anymore. The get big or get out mentality has driven us towards large mono-cropping, which is mostly commodity crops – not the fresh fruits and vegetables that we purchase from our local grocers. Also, our reliance on fossil-fuel inputs allowed farms to get so big that they stopped growing real food. Food products are so cheap now that Americans are addicted to a diet based on non-food.”
For the purposes of this study, locally-grown implies only that the product is grown and sold within the state of Georgia. Further, the study’s scope focused only on produce, including only vegetables, melons, fruit and nuts as classified by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).
As of 2007, there were 335 farms classified as produce farms that sold in excess of $2 million in products directly to consumers for human consumption.
Kent Wolfe, one of the study’s four authors and a marketing specialist with UGA’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development:
“The most surprising thing this study revealed to me was that we consumed so little locally grown foods in the state,” says. “It just made me excited to see what the potential is out there. There are a lot of small farmers who’d love to take advantage of all that potential. We just need to find a better way to connect everybody.”
Wolfe added, “I hope that it raises the profile of the need the state has to increase local food consumption in Georgia.” Wolfe says that he and his colleagues are working on a follow-up study that will examine what other states are doing to promote direct farm to consumer sales across the southeast, and determine “if there are regulations we can work on to help facilitate local consumption. It should also shed some light as to why Georgia is behind the national average.”
Julia Gaskin, Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator with UGA’s Biological & Agricultural Engineering Dept. and Georgia Organics board member says the study highlights a major obstacle that could also become a major economic engine in rural Georgia.
“We’ve got this chicken-and-the-egg thing when it comes to infrastructure,” Gaskin says. “The smaller producers that are selling to CSAs and farmers markets have figured their marketing out. But we don’t have enough mid-sized producers, and one reason for that is we need some aggregator to get to new markets and institutions, such as schools and universities, and they need packing and handling facilities, too. We don’t have that infrastructure in the state. We have to re-create it, so there’s a real potential for food processing for mid-sized sustainable producers and processors,” Gaskin says. “There’s a lot of opportunity that can strengthen our rural communities. I don’t think it’ll be easy, but it’s a great potential.”
Roderick Gilbert, Georgia Organics board member and Project Manager for the Center for Innovation for Agribusiness: “As a partner, the Center for Innovation for Agribusiness thinks the report is a very strong report, and we are looking forward to working with Georgia Organics on developing ways to capture more of the dollars that are spent on local fruit and vegetables and keep that money here in the state.”