The ‘locavore’ movement is a growing phenomenon in developed markets as consumers seek to know more about the foods they eat, amid growing concerns about sustainable agriculture and large-scale factory farms. It would seem that here in central New York, with farms all around, there would be plenty of opportunity for folks to buy local foods. However, even in this agricultural landscape, producers and consumers need to connect, and often these connections are difficult to maintain when the market landscape is not well-understood. In New York, Cornell University Cooperative Extension (CCE) programs and staff are critical to supporting agriculture, in general, and are playing an increasing role in promotion of local foods.
Josh Riefler, a member of the Colgate class of 2014, and Upstate Institute Summer Field School Fellow, is conducting a market demand study for local foods in Madison, Oneida and Chenango Counties. “What makes the project both interesting and challenging is that although local foods have become a national trend over the past few years, there is little to no existing data at local levels on the demand and consumption patterns of local food.” The data that Josh is gathering is very important for farmers who want to expand production for local buyers. Produce appropriate for the wholesale and cannery markets may not appeal to customers who are buying local. Farmers must be willing to invest upfront in changes to their crop distribution, and that is best done with solid information about demand for food items. “This study might shed some light into what local residents currently buy, and what local food demand, if any, is unmet.”
Josh has built the survey instrument over the last few weeks, working closely with staff at CCE, and learning about the structure of the potential local markets. “The first few weeks were devoted to research of any precedent studies on local foods, as well as general data on regional food consumption (and to a small degree production) patterns. Deciding what was missing from available information and the methodology to go about obtaining local-level data followed. Working with an expert in survey creation and data collection, I went through several re-edits of my different surveys to ensure that our own method of collecting new data would be as high quality as possible.” The survey instrument has now been distributed to farmers’ markets in the area, and is live on the web. Madison County’s upcoming Open Farm Days are certain to help consumers better understand the availability of local foods.
Hailing from Buffalo, NY, Josh knows the upstate New York area, and working as a Field School Fellow has deepened his understanding of the challenges and opportunities the region offers. “ Being a Field Fellow for the summer has given me the opportunity to gain insight on a whole new field (agriculture) that has not only a strong economic impact on the area, but a tangible one as well that has influence on the physical and social appearance of the area surrounding Colgate.”