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New Study: Local Food Means Lots of Michigan JobsPrint

Food & Farming | June 1, 2010 | By Patty Cantrell

A new study finds that if Michiganders bought all of their seasonal vegetables from Michigan growers, it would create more than 4,000 new jobs in the state. Photo State of Michigan

What if Michigan farms supplied all of the fruits and vegetables that Michiganders eat during the growing season? A new study puts this what-if scenario into numbers. It’s a handy set of data for all those trying to get a grasp of what buying local in season can do for the economy.

And it reveals what a powerful jobs-builder “going local” with more of our fruits and vegetables could be, particularly when compared to the current federal commodity crop subsidy system, which spends hundred of millions of dollars in the state but creates far fewer jobs per acre.

The new study, commissioned by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, covers six Upper Midwest states. Our own Michigan Food and Farming Systems was involved in getting the study underway.

It examines two scenarios.

First, What would happen to the local economy if Michigan’s farmers supplied all of the state’s in-season demand for 28 fruits and vegetables that are common throughout the Upper Midwest?

Second, What would happen if farms near metropolitan areas with population of 250,000 or more, supplies that cities’ in-season produce consumption?

These scenarios are not far-fetched. More and more consumers-from individuals to big food service companies-are choosing local, in-season food over imports from California, Chile, China, and the like.

Michigan has a big advantage in this emerging Midwest market-its farms grown one of the widest selection of fruit and vegetables in the country and also grows three times more tree fruit than other states in the region and twice as many berries (Figures 5 and 6, page six of the report).

Under the first scenario-a state’s farmers supplying that state’s entire seasonal demand-Michigan could generate new 4,448 farm and retail jobs. That is a big jobs number in any economic analysis, but it’s especially impressive when it’s compared to the number of jobs created by crops that get a lot more government support. In fact, it’s six times more jobs than those that the same amount of land, about 75,000 acres, now generates from highly subsidized corn and soybean production.

Under the second scenario-farms near metropolitan areas supplying that metro’s entire seasonal demand-Michigan could generate 3,262 farm and retail jobs from just 57,000 acres. Those subsidized corn and soybeans, grown on the same amount of land, would generate just 548 jobs.

Altogether, across the six states, the study shows that fruit and vegetables could generate nearly four times as many jobs, and more than six times as much in wages as corn and soybean production on the same land.

Patty Cantrell founded the Michigan Land Use Institute’s entrepreneurial agriculture program and is MLUI’s senior policy specialist. Reach her at pattyc@mlui.org.