Nebraskans spend $4.4 billion annually on food with 90 percent of that money leaving the state. A new Center for Rural Affairs report finds an opportunity to turn that around.
In a joint project with the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, we asked consumers, producers, institutions and grocery stores about their experiences with locally produced food and their views on regional food systems. Project funding came from USDA's Federal State Marketing Improvement Program.
Results were clear. The positive attitude toward local foods and a growing national emphasis on food security, health and environment make it possible to bring a regional food system together to include farming and community gardening, processing, storage, distribution and transportation, and food access.
The report, Regional Food Systems in Nebraska: Views of Consumers, Producers and Institutions, demonstrates that Nebraska consumers are overwhelmingly interested in purchasing food directly from local producers. But a large majority believe the supply of producers selling food directly is difficult to find.
Consumers also showed a willingness to pay slightly more for locally grown food. But that willingness has a limit. Beyond a 10 percent price increase willingness to pay decreases.
The demand for locally grown food exists among consumers. But the market, or at least the perception of the market, may be lacking. Farmers markets and grocery stores are the most common places to purchase locally produced foods. And consumers want increased grocery store and restaurant options to purchase locally produced foods.
A number of consumers commented on the hours and location inconvenience of farmers markets, which may mean more business training is needed for those operating farmers markets.
Producers acknowledge they face challenges in building a regional food system. Producing sufficient volume of products and transportation were the most common challenges cited. But a large majority of producers are interested in expanding their local food production capacity. A majority are interested in participating in a regional food system.
Our survey data paints a clear picture that the prevailing attitudes among consumers, producers and institutions toward the growth of local and regional food systems are overwhelmingly positive. And while real challenges exist, there is also real opportunity and a desire among all parties to meet those challenges.
Download the Regional Food Systems report.