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Ul explores strategy to help farmers access local markets

The Aberdeen Times of Aberdeen, Idaho

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A University of Idaho research project seeks strategies to help small to medium sized farms supply foods to local markets.

One of the first efforts of the USDA-funded project will be a survey of restaurant and grocery stores to better understand how consumers' desire for local foods translates to dollars and cents for farmers and those who buy their products.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded the three-year project for $500,000 to support efforts by University of Idaho Extension educators focused on small farms, agricultural economists and other UI researchers.

The survey led by Aaron Johnson, a College of Agricultural and Life Sciences economist, will ask grocery store produce department managers and restaurant produce buyers about factors that influence their decisions to buy local produce.

"We're basically trying to figure out how large the market is for local foods," Johnson said, "and the challenges grocery store and restaurant buyers might face." The survey focuses on buyers in Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Tomatoes are one of the survey's test cases, Johnson said, because consumers buy a lot of them and they can be grown commercially in the Northwest.

The survey questions probe buyers' views on the tradeoffs related to the price of produce versus the distance it must travel and its seasonal availability.

"Our motivation is that a lot of people have looked at what consumers want when they favor local produce," Johnson said, "but few if any have looked at how that translates to actions at the retailer or restaurant-producer interactions."

Darin Saul, the college's grant writer, is the project director. The survey data will help to develop strategies farmers can use. Other goals for the study include evaluating strategies for-local and regional food processing and distribution and estimating their economic impact.

The study's interdisciplinary approach also draws on College of Science faculty members Tim Frazier and Ray Dezzani and College of Business and Economics professor Shenghan Xu.

UI Extension small farms program educator Cinda Williams and economist Paul Lewin will deliver educational trainings to farmers to help them access local and regional opportunities.

The project includes an advisory board of food industry, state, economic development and farmer representatives from Boise, Caldwell, Nampa, Twin Falls and Moscow.

It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.

—John Steinbeck

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Original Publication Date: February 25, 2015

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