ROMA Farms

the musings & findings of a (certified organic) start-up farm Aquidneck Island, RI

Community Food Enterprises

There is a movement within pockets of the country that seems to be gaining momentum in the form of Community Food Enterprises (CFEs). CFEs are businesses that are locally owned, employ local residents, and use mostly local goods and services. While the concept of utilizing local members to support and strengthen the community is not really all that new – think of the interconnected days when meat was bought from the local butcher who bought from the local farmer whose family used the local doctor and who all met up at the church house on Sunday – it is a welcome sight in this era of national big-box retailers and international franchise chains.

With more studies on this “hyper-local” business model still forthcoming, the preliminary research seems to be very promising. Michael Shuman – an economist, author and research director for Cutting Edge Capital, an Oakland company that specializes in innovative financing – even goes as far as to call CFEs the “model of the future”:

“There’s good evidence to show that CFEs generate more jobs - two to four times the amount per dollar of sales (emphasis added)- and generate more income and wealth for (their) communities than non-locally owned businesses, even ones that source goods from the area,” said Shuman, whose report “Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in the World Marketplace” shows how these types of businesses grow local economies while becoming more competitive globally.

The report was issued by the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and the Wallace Center at Winrock International and studied 24 local food enterprises across the country. Included in this report is a case study on Zingerman’s Community of Businesses – a personal favorite of Roma Farms. Zingerman’s has a fascinating business model, providing the blueprint for any company interested in being a pillar in the local community while also managing to run a (very) successful business. (For a more in-depth look at Zingerman’s and their philosophy be sure to check out Bo Burlingham’s book Small Giants.)

Naturally, all of this success and tangible value is not lost on Big Brother. Kathleen Merrigan of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the government values local food businesses so much so that it’s willing to help with the cost of doing business. In fact, Congress has mandated that 5 percent of the money set aside for the USDA’s Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program go to farmers who sell their products regionally.

And rightfully so:

“Studies show that farmers who sell locally and regionally employ 13 full-time workers per $1 million revenue earned,” Merrigan said. “Farmers who don’t sell locally or regionally employ three workers for every $1 million in revenue earned.”

Which all makes sense: selling locally means needing more hands to help with the picking and harvesting, more help in setting up and running the various farmers’ market stands, and additional manpower to deliver to all of the different local establishments. Because it fuels the market – a 2009 Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship study showed that farmers’ markets in that state pumped more than $71 million into the economy – the USDA is committed to farmers who practice the model. (For more information on the USDA, you can check out their “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative which consists of dozens of USDA programs geared toward helping local food businesses.)

So whenever you can, be sure to support your local businesses, whatever they might be. The benefits extend far beyond just your personal experience, affecting (and strengthening) your entire community.

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