Report finds interest among Nebraskans in creating local, regional food systems

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Posted: Saturday, September 14, 2013 12:00 am

LYONS, Neb. — There is significant interest in creating local and regional food production and marketing systems among Nebraskans, especially among farmers, ranchers, consumers and institutional buyers, according to a report released this week by the Center for Rural Affairs here.

The report also indicates that despite that interest, there are major challenges that will have to be resolved.

In February, the center released a report that analyzed the results of a survey of Nebraskans on local food systems.

After the survey was completed, the center conducted focus groups for each of the project-relevant groups: consumers, farmers, ranchers, food-serving institutions and grocery stores.

“Both the surveys and focus groups done for this project show there are several issues between producers and consumers that require answers before local and regional food systems can be truly successful,” said Jon Bailey, the center’s director of rural research and analysis and author of the report.

Bailey said the usual food-buying experience of consumers (location, hours, convenience) does not always translate to a local or regional food-buying experience. Farmers are experienced in growing and producing their products for sale; their skills in marketing and business operations may be lacking.

Moreover, balancing the expectations and needs of consumers and the skills and desires of farmers and ranchers will be necessary to create long-term successful and sustainable local and regional food systems.

“Nonetheless, all groups with a stake in the food system appear to want to make a local and regional food system work,” Bailey said. “It is incumbent now to capitalize on that support and enthusiasm in order to build for the future.

“It is clear from the survey results and the focus groups that all three groups — farmers, consumers and institutions — will need to collaborate to make regional food systems in Nebraska a viable reality,” he said. “Those involved in developing regional food systems also need to address questions regarding future viability for regional food systems.”

The report describes a number of steps that need to occur to bring about the necessary collaborations, including:

» Development of a state food policy council or local and regional councils to organize regional food systems and determine the strengths, challenges and needs of localities and regions.

» Local and regional entities to develop infrastructure necessary for the cultivation and advancement of regional food systems.

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