Local Food Systems Provide Fertile Ground for Local Government Innovation, New Study Says

By Samantha Ferrigno | Oct 31, 2016 | BLOG POST
com garden 1

Food is at the core of your community’s well-being. It provides sustenance, and fuels performance at school, work, and play; so it’s hard to dispute that everyone in your community deserves access to food that is healthy, affordable, and culturally appropritate.

A 2015 Food Systems Survey conducted by ICMA and the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems indicates that 73% of local governments surveyed provide some type of food support – that is, via policy, practice, or as a partner in or administrator of a program – to at least one of 24 types of local food system activities suggested by the survey. From the study and the range of local governments surveyed, it appears that local food systems provide fertile ground for local government innovation. 

Below are two great examples of local food system activities to add to your community planning. To learn more on the topic or to access the 2015 Food Systems Survey, read ICMA's Local Government Review, a special section in the December 2016 issue of PM magazine.

Establishing and Managing Farmers Markets

Just over half of local governments who responded to the survey – 53%  indicated the existence of a local farmers market, with nearly two-thirds of those 1,000+ markets supported by a local government program or policy.

Catawba County Public Health, a 2015 Local Government Excellence Award Nominee, established a new community farmers market – the Catawba Public Health Farmers Market – to address the problems of six USDA-recognized food deserts (low-income areas where grocery stores are more than a mile away from where residents live, and where transportation is a barrier) as well as obesity, where 38.1% of children ages 2-18 and 72% of adults are overweight or obese.

Over the course of two years, Public Health hosted 41 markets serving 8,924 customers and 16 farmers. Market surveys indicate the following results:

  • Customers said the market helped them increase the amount of fruits and vegetables their family ate both years (88.4% in 2013 and 93.2% in 2014); this number was even higher for WIC customers (95% in 2013 and 94.6% in 2014).
  • WIC customers said the market made it easier to redeem their WIC FMNP vouchers (65.79%), provided the food choices they wanted (31.58%), saved time (28.95%), and reduced distance traveled (18.42%).
  • 84.4% of SNAP/EBT customers said the market helped increase their family’s consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and 73% attributed that to their ability to use their food assistance benefits at the market.
  • Farmer income from market enhancements – WIC FMNP vouchers and Bonus Bucks (not counting cash sales) – in 2013 was $5,824; with the addition of SNAP/EBT and debit in 2014, that amount nearly doubled to $10,707.

Providing Land for Community Gardens

From the survey, 38% of those noted that there is land for community gardens, with 29% of those 1,000+ community gardens being supported by a local government program or policy.

As the community of Lenoir, North Carolina struggled to rebuild its economic base while addressing the increased demands for medical service for the uninsured and greater demands on social service agencies, a unique partnership, Caldwell Community Gardens was forged in 2010. The Caldwell Community Gardens partnership consists of the City of Lenoir, Caldwell Memorial Hospital, Caldwell County Master Gardeners, and a coalition of faith-based organizations and local residents with a passion for gardening and food security issues.

Caldwell Community Gardens partnership has transformed the former Singer furniture factory site into the home of Unity Park and Community Gardens, featuring 75 raised garden beds, an irrigation system, fruit orchard, berry patch, garden tool shed, walking path, and children’s play area. Other results include:

  • Through the efforts of the partnership, volunteers were recruited from the Google server farm in Lenoir to construct the first 25 raised garden beds at the park.  Other volunteers planted a plot of land in the park with potatoes, corn, turnips, lettuces and other greens—all foods that were distributed to local social service agencies such as the Lenoir Soup Kitchen, Caldwell Shelter Home, and Yokefellow.
  • In February of 2012, 50 additional garden beds were constructed by volunteers from the city, the hospital, and citizens.
  • Reporters covering the event had both been at the Singer site in 2009 when a major fire at the old furniture factory threatened nearby businesses and homes.  In their broadcasts the reporters commented on “the remarkable transformation” and the “renewed community pride” evident at Unity Park. The WSOC broadcast included an interview with a gentleman who was eating lunch at the Lenoir Soup Kitchen who commented on the meal he was having that included turnips harvested from Unity Park gardens, “This is a really good thing for the people of Lenoir.”
16-302 Local Government Review_102816_Page_01


ICMA presents Local Government Review (LGR), Putting Research Into Practice - GET YOUR COPY TODAY! 

A special section of Public Management (PM) magazine, LGR puts key research findings and expert insights about current local government issues and trends into the hands of members and PM subscribers—and at no additional cost! This collection of articles is available in the December 2016 print issue of PM and digitally through PM+Online.

From November 1 through November 30, non-ICMA members and non-PM subscribers can receive $10 off a year’s subscription of PM (print or online), which includes the special, 48-page LGR insert.  On December 15, nonmembers may purchase e-copies of LGR through ICMA’s online bookstore for $46.


Get more content like this in your mailbox!

Subscribe via email


You may also be interested in