As awareness of local food grows, more people are becoming interested in understanding the economic impacts of local food systems. While many of us may be motivated to buy local food by values like preserving farmland, supporting small businesses, and expanding access to fresh, healthy food, these goals are economic development goals. Economic growth is a much narrower measure centered on increases in jobs and sales, or monetary value. To be sure, economic growth is a limited way of judging success, but there are times when it is helpful to justify food system initiatives in terms of economic growth to decision-makers like funders or local government officials.
The average age of farm operators in the United States is 58. In the next 20 years, an estimated 70 percent of privately owned agricultural land is expected to change hands in the US. Farmers in the Grand Traverse Region are not immune to this graying trend, as the average age of operators in this area ranges from about 55 in Kalkaska to nearly 60 in Manistee. Moreover, it is expected that around 83,000 acres of farmland in our region will change hands in coming years as well.