How do regional food systems build community health and boost a region’s economy? OSU Extension expert helped write the book

 

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Lauren Gwin

Lauren Gwin, OSU Crop and Soil Science assistant professor and Extension food systems expert, has contributed to a new book, Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities.

Published this month, the book is a compilation of research, essays and reports exploring the potential for harnessing the growing local-food movement to boost economic opportunities for rural and urban communities.

More and more, consumers are demanding locally sourced foods, says Gwin. “One of our book’s main take-home messages is that tailored policies and targeted investments in regional food systems can pay off for both cities and rural areas, and can also help low-income people get access to better food.”

The book’s 17 chapters address opportunities and challenges to developing regional food systems, including communities’ need for access to capital and technical assistance, as well as opportunities posed by forging creative partnerships among banks, nonprofits, farmers, other businesses and government.

Gwin is associate director of OSU Extension’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems and also co-coordinates the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network. She coauthored, with Michigan State University’s Nick McCann, the chapter titled Use It or Lose It: Local Food, Regional Processing and the Perils of Unused Capacity.

Gwin and McCann argue that, because processing is often expensive in equipment and intensive in required knowledge and systems, every effort must be made to keep infrastructure busy. They use case studies of existing processors to illustrate both pitfalls and promising strategies for doing this. For example, producers should make every effort to partner with owners of existing processing plants in their area, rather than investing in expensive new facilities.

“Sometimes a new facility is warranted,” Gwin says, “but we have learned that successful processors ‘think regional’ in terms of both sourcing and sales. In one of our examples, we show how it makes sense to transport sustainably raised green beans from a farm in Maine to a processing plant in Massachusetts, because that plant needs to draw from the whole region in order to stay in business.”

Harvesting Opportunity is published by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 

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