A young MBA student and reader of Keating’s Desk asked me why I focus on agriculture so much.  A new law review article entitled Regional Foodsheds: Are Our Local Zoning and Land Use Regulations Healthy? details some of the reasons. The article also inventories local communities efforts from the across the nation to secure a resilient local foodshed and accompanying  policies to support such.

The article advances one important point concerning the worldview change in leaders and policymakers necessary to accomplish the goal of a broad, safe, and secure food system.

Regional foodshed planning must be comprehensive, and it should ―approach food not just [as] a commodity but as an infrastructural system. . . that needs to be managed and considered in all urban and regional planning efforts.

Food, today, is viewed exclusively as a commodity, but for the twenty-first century, we need to be as concerned about our present dysfunctional food supply system and consider its improvement, as a structure, as important as we are our crumbling roads and foreign-oil dependence. Consider, if we think it bad to be dependent upon foreign oil, imagine being dependent upon foreign food.

The article begins with the benefits of local and regional foodsheds. In addition to environmental and public health benefits, the article evidences the economic benefits:

In 2009, U.S. households spent more than $526 billion on food produced outside of the home, indicating a significant economic market for locally grown and processed food. Local sourcing can supply a significant amount of food. A recent Michigan State University study posits that by converting vacant urban land to a host of urban agriculture related uses (e.g., farms, community gardens and storage facilities), Detroit residents could be supplied with seventy-six percent of their vegetables and more than forty percent of their fruits. Although there may be a lack of focus and understanding concerning the relationship between the local economy and food systems, strong regional food markets economically support labor-intensive small and medium sized farms, which have been overtaken in the past several decades by mechanized, large-scale industrial agricultural operations. Local economies are also reinforced as the foodshed movement spurs the need for local food processing facilities and agri-businesses providing supplies, equipment and services (such as repairs). In addition to job creation and economic development, regional food markets reduce transportation costs and provide some insulation from volatility in the global food market. Furthermore, regional markets for production and processing can decrease costs for healthy foods, which can in turn produce economic benefits by preventing health care costs from diseases associated with poor diet and obesity.

The article details many strategies and models which local governments and municipalities might follow including: creating food policy councils/task forces and incorporating food policies into their comprehensive planning.

Some local comprehensive plans contain sections (also called ―elements) that touch on regional food policies, such as agriculture, sustainability, or economic development elements. For example, the Marin County, California plan supports ―the production and marketing of healthy, fresh, locally grown food.

A broad array of other policies which are being tried across the country are detailed. For instance, a policy which I have advocated in the past is examined: employing the purchasing power of local governments:

Procurement policies that favor locally grown foods can help establish a market to support regional food production. In Cleveland, for example, an ordinance was passed in 2010 that requires the commissioner of purchases and supplies and each contracting department to develop a list of local food producers and businesses and to ―endeavor to maximize purchases from these sources. It also favors contract bidders that are locally based and purchase twenty percent of their food locally. Albany County, New York, has also enacted a policy to increase the percentage of local food consumed at the county‘s residential healthcare and correctional facilities. The policy recognizes that locally produced food supports the regional economy, requires less oil and gas, and provides nutritional benefits. Furthermore, in early 2011, a proposal was introduced in New York City to increase purchases of New York state food by city agencies.

For anyone wanting to view a broad array of possibilities for their local communities, this article provides a great starting place.