Local Food Systems

City Growers

City Growers transforms vacant Boston lots into economically and environmentally sustainable urban farms that create livable wage employment opportunities for Boston residents. They also increase access to affordable, healthy food, and contribute to greater food security.  The for-profit venture currently operates four Boston sites and generates revenues by selling produce to a range of local restaurants and small grocers.

Good Food Business Accelerator

Good Food Business Accelerator is the first accelerator in the U.S. focused on building local supply chains around “good food,” defined as local, sustainable, humane, and fair.  To do so, the accelerator provides hands-on workshops, seminars, access to capital, and one-on-one mentorships to food and farm entrepreneurs ready to launch or scale up.  Since its establishment in 2014, the accelerator has helped area businesses raise more than $23 million.

Urban Canopy

Urban Canopy aims to grow more healthy food in Chicago in a way that creates local jobs, empowers communities, reduces environmental impact, and is sustainable.  Founded as a small public school project in 2011, Urban Canopy is now a for-profit enterprise that grows thousands of wheat grass and micro-green trays in an indoor growing space.  It also operates a CSA, manages and supplies farmers markers located in underserved communities, runs a Compost Club, and offers incentives such as coupons for its produce to encourage participation.

Food Well Alliance

The Food Well Alliance works to grow a resilient, local food movement in Metro Atlanta by connecting individuals and organizations and promoting collective action to build healthier communities.  Through its Local Food Grant program, Food Well Alliance has provided $600,000 in support of enterprises that are using local food as a transformational tool to build healthier communities.  The nonprofit also provides micro-grants to community gardens and funds local organizations that run capacity-building programs for local food enterprises.


Launched in 2007, Re:Vision aims to work with people in Denver’s economically marginalized neighborhoods to develop resident leaders, cultivate community food systems, and build a locally-owned economy.  Through its Backyard Gardens program, it provides low-income families with the resources and technical assistance needed to create high-production organic vegetable gardens.  The nonprofit also runs a community urban farm, which includes a greenhouse, fruit orchard, demonstration beehive, and over 10,000 square feet of production beds.  To empower people to choose healthier food, in 2015 it built a new educational kitchen space to support cooking, nutrition, and food preservation classes for community members.  It is now working with community residents to develop a member-owned and operated grocery store in Westwood, a current food desert.


GreenLeaf is a nonprofit that uses urban agriculture to empower Denver youth, build community, and achieve food justice.  Youth run all aspects of GreenLeaf’s food production, distribution, and community outreach and canvassing efforts, and receive a fair wage and a portion of the harvest for their work.  Since its start in 2008, GreenLeaf youth have grown over 10,000 pounds of produce, donating over 15 percent to hunger-relief agencies and selling 50 percent at sliding scale prices to residents in Denver’s food deserts. Read more about GreenLeaf...

Denver Urban Gardens

Established in 1985 to help Denver residents create sustainable, food-producing neighborhood gardens, Denver Urban Gardens now operates 157 community gardens in the Denver metro area (including 46 school-based sites)—which together grow more than 610 tons of fresh produce a year—and an educational farm, DeLaney Community Farm.  The nonprofit also runs several training programs for youth and adults.

New Haven Farms

Founded in 2012 in response to the intersecting crises of diabetes, obesity, environmental degradation, and poverty, New Haven Farms works to transform vacant, dilapidated urban spaces in New Haven’s poorest neighborhoods into small, organic farms.  Through its farm-based wellness program, the nonprofit provides low-income adults who are facing diet-related, chronic disease risk factors weekly cooking demonstrations, nutrition classes, gardening seminars, and a share of fresh vegetables and fruits (along with culturally relevant, affordable, nutritious, and bilingual recipes).  Its new pilot program, “Peels & Wheels,” uses bikes to transport residents’ food waste to one of its farms, where it is composted and then used at the nonprofit’s farm sites.

Common Ground

Focused on environmental learning and leadership, Common Ground aims to cultivate habits of healthy living and sustainable environmental practices among New Haven residents.  To do so, the center operates an eco-focused charter high school and an urban demonstration farm, and offers a range of programs designed to help people of all ages connect with the natural world and develop habits of sustainable living.  Its gardens grow 10,000+ pounds of fresh, local produce a year, which it shares with 2,500 low-income community members, and support nearly 100 paid youth jobs and 4 youth business ventures.


CitySeed works to provide access to fresh, local food for all New Haven residents.  To do so, the nonprofit founded and administers the New Haven Food Policy Council, which advocates for healthy food for all residents and runs a range of programs focused on connecting people to local food.  CitySeed also operates five farmers markets as well as a mobile market to bring fresh produce to food deserts, and offers double value for SNAP (food stamps) customers.  Most recently, it opened Kitchen at CitySeed, a commercial kitchen space designed to incubate small food businesses and support hands-on educational programs.

Findings of the 2015 National Food Hub Survey

Jill Hardy, Dr. Michael Hamm, Rich Pirog, Dr. John Fisk, Jeff Farbman and Micaela Fischer

Food hubs—businesses that actively manage the aggregation and distribution of source-identified food products—are receiving continued, growing attention from diverse stakeholders who see food hubs as vectors for economic growth and social and environmental change. As consumer desire for local and regional foods continues to grow and evolve, food hubs are increasing in number and adapting to shifting demand from intermediated local and regional food markets. The 2015 National Food Hub Survey and its predecessor, the 2013 National Food Hub Survey, represent a broad effort to aggregate national-level data on the characteristics and impact of food hubs. Together, these surveys represent the beginning of a longitudinal database from a large, broad national sample of food hubs. 

Best Practices for Creating a Sustainable and Equitable Food System in the United States

Ashley Blackwell

 This issue brief outlines a road map to create a more sustainable and equitable food system. It first provides an overview of the existing state of food insecurity in the United States; it then gives an overview of national best practices, highlighted through specific case studies, and discusses tools to fund such initiatives and to build cross-sector partnerships that take a holistic approach to addressing food deserts and food insecurity. 

The Economics of Local Food Systems: A Literature Review of the Production, Distribution, and Consumption of Local Food

Ariel Pinchot
University of Minnesota

With the recent and continued growth in the demand for locally grown food, questions emerge about market characteristics, the capacity of local food systems to support regional economic development, and the economic aspects of the production and consumption of local foods. What do we know about the economics of local and regional food systems? What is the status of research in this arena? The authors and contributors to this report found no comprehensive literature review concentrating solely on the economics of local or regional food system development. We seek to address this literature gap by providing a review and annotation of key publications on the economics of local food system development. Within this subject, we specifically focus on the characteristics of local food markets, local food consumers and motivations for purchases, local food producers and food hubs, and the role of food systems in community and economic development. Potential beneficiaries of this literature review include educators and other academic staff, students, local food advocates, and a range of professionals who participate in local food system development. Structured to highlight key findings from many sources up front, and followed by an annotated bibliography of selected publications, the review is designed to serve as a helpful introduction to recent research on the economics of local foods in the United States. Food system research in the state of Minnesota receives a special focus in this review. 

Community Supported Agriculture: A Model for the Farmer and the Community?

Mark Paul
Economics for Equity and the Environment Network

This case study provides an analysis and evaluation of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). To examine CSA as a potentially viable Future Economy Initiative, interviews, a survey, and secondary data sources were utilized. From May 2014 to October 2014 16 in-person semi-structured interviews with CSA farmers were conducted across three counties in Western Massachusetts. A copy of the interview and survey can be found in the appendix. There have been few comprehensive efforts to analyze CSA across the United States, however this study provides an overview of the CSA and the resulting economic, social, and environmental outcomes. 

Growing in Place: Building a Local Food Economy in Vermont

Kathryn A. Olson
Economics for Equity and the Environment Network

The local food movement has been gaining momentum in the United States, with farmers’ markets and new direct-to-consumer arrangements such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) gaining in popularity. Yet while proponents of local food point to its environmental, economic, and social benefits, little research has investigated the impact of local food on community wellbeing. Vermont leads the country in farm stands, direct-to-consumer sales, and farmers’ markets per capita and the town of Hardwick has received attention for its growing economy based on new food and agriculture businesses. This project applied a multi-disciplinary methodology to assess the impact of a local food economy on the environmental, economic, and social wellbeing of the community. 

Hmong American Farmers Association

Founded and now led by family farmers, the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) strives to foster prosperity among Hmong farmers through cooperative endeavors, capacity building, and advocacy.  Its work is grounded in communitarian values and based around the Whole Food Model, which explicates that all aspects of the “farm-to-fork system” must be addressed simultaneously to build real intergenerational, community wealth. In 2014, HAFA established a 155-acre incubator and research farm, an initiative aimed at providing Hmong farmers with access to farmland near metro areas, educating farmers about sustainable agricultural practices, and preserving land for food production.

Farm Alliance of Baltimore City

Launched in 2011, the Farm Alliance of Baltimore City is a network of 13 producers united by socially, economically, and environmentally just practices and principles who are working to increase the viability of urban farming and improve access to urban grown foods.  Participating producers can collaborate to collectively market and publicize their products, use shared equipment, and sell at the Alliance’s Saturday farm stand.  To help ensure all city residents can access fresh produce, the Alliance launched its Double Dollars program in 2013.  Through this program, the Alliance raises funds so that it can match EBT and WIC customers’ purchases at neighborhood-based farm stands, enabling them to buy twice what they could otherwise afford.  In 2015 alone, the program provided matches for more than 1,400 unique participants.