Economic Impact of U.S. Farm to School Sales

RESEARCH NEED: Despite a proliferation of farm to school programming and policies to support their development, there have been no rigorous national (U.S.) assessments of their local economic impacts to date. Utilizing available secondary data (e.g., Farm to School Census, Agricultural Resource Management Survey), as well as a recently agreed upon best practice methodology developed by a team led by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and Colorado State University (see: “The Economics of Local Food Systems: A Toolkit to Guide Community Discussions, Assessments and Choices”). This research aims to understand how the availability of these local food markets changes participating farms’ inter-industry (supply chain) interactions, as well as their overall market access as they change market orientation or scale up to wholesale markets to respond to dynamic food markets. These data can be used to support and reinforce modeling efforts developed to estimate the local economic impacts of farm to school sales.

RESEARCH QUESTION: What are the short-term economic impacts of farm to school sales in the United States and how do the economic impacts vary by key characteristics (e.g., supply chain or business relationships such as food hub utilization and/or cooperative structures, commodity, U.S. region, rural-urban continuum, USDA farm to school grantee, etc.)?


  • Apply the USDA AMS funded Toolkit best practice economic impact assessment methodology to primary and secondary data that represents U.S. farm to school sales and market linkages.
  • Document estimates of the short-term economic impacts of farm to school sales in the U.S., including how economic impacts vary by key characteristics (e.g., supply chain or business relationships such as food hub utilization and/or cooperative structures, commodity, U.S. region, rural-urban continuum, USDA farm to school grantees).
  • Determine the extent to which the availability of farm to school markets enable participating producers to diversify market channels (to manage market risk) and increase sales (to strive for greater scale economies).

APPROACH: The farm to school economic impact assessment approach was developed by researchers at Colorado State University and the National Farm to School Network with the goal of evaluating and comparing the expenditure and revenue functions for farmers participating in farm to school programs. Working with partners across the country, the research team implemented a survey collecting data from farmers regarding their motivation for selling to schools, participation in various farm to school activities, current market channels, satisfaction with selling to schools, and production expenditures. We compared their responses to existing secondary expenditure functions derived from the USDA Local Food Survey and Agricultural Resource Management Survey. Our findings were used to develop an input/output model to assess the economic impact.


  • Christensen, Libby O. and Becca Jablonski. Assessing the economic impact of farm to school sales. In preparation, submitting to Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems

Rural Wealth Creation in Colorado

RESEARCH NEED: In search of new opportunities to support rural communities and economies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and a growing number of development organizations have begun to promote a new set of goals for rural America under the umbrella of rural wealth creation. In this context, the concept of “wealth” includes all types of community capital assets (net of liabilities) that contribute to the well-being of people and communities—social, cultural, human, political, physical, natural, and financial capital. Wealth can paint a very different picture than economic activity when it comes to evaluating outcomes and policy practices.

Through this this interdisciplinary research we are working to explore the relationship between food systems led development strategies and rural wealth creation. Food systems provide an interesting and timely lens to investigate the efficacy of a rural wealth creation approach to rural development initiatives, in part due to its integration within the USDA’s four pillars of rural economic development.

RESEARCH QUESTION: What are the rural wealth creation impacts of food system initiatives?


  • Plan and implement a national conference for researchers, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Rural Policy Research Institute and others that both furthers rural wealth creation as a dominant rural development paradigm and establishes CSU as a leader in this area of growing importance.
  • Test the empiricization of the rural wealth creation framework using a case study of the Denver Food Vision and hypothetical ways in which they could implement their 2030 winnable goals.
  • Solicit funding and partnership from key Departments, foundations, and industry to develop a Center (Institute) at CSU focused on food systems and rural development (wealth creation).

APPROACH: Take stock of existing best practices pertaining to: 1) gathering secondary data of these capitals; 2) collecting primary data of the capitals through surveys and other instruments; 3) modeling flows and stocks across capitals to better understand tradeoffs; and 4) understanding capital thresholds so “critical” stocks can be identified (critical defined as those capital flows and stocks that act as the most impactful levers for wealth creation within communities and regions). Once those best practices are established, we will work to determine their transferability—e.g., how well do they work across time and place and what else is needed to make these tools accurate/robust/resilient across stakeholder groups (private industry, academia, policy makers, communities, etc.) and differing conditions?

To facilitate the application of the rural wealth creation framework, we will use a case study of the Denver Food Vision (more information: In line with the efforts of other cities, counties, municipalities and regions across North America, the City and County of Denver undertook the ambitious effort of developing its first long-term strategic vision for the future of food in the county and the surrounding region. The resulting document, the Denver Food Vision, summarizes the key focus areas of the vision including measurable “winnable goals”.

Given that the focus of the Food Vision was the City and County of Denver, its ability to look at the regional or rural impacts of its proposed goals was limited. With an eye towards rural impacts, we intend to assess scenarios associated with three of the winnable goals:

  1. Preserve and maintain 100 acres of prime agricultural working lands in active production;
  2. Procure 25% of all food purchased by public institutions from Colorado farmers/ranchers/processors;
  3. Attract $100M of new capital to Denver Food Businesses;
  4. Increase adult and child fruit and vegetable consumption by 14%.

Efforts will be focused on impacts in two case study locations – one on the Eastern Plains, and the other in the San Luis Valley. Our team will look at hypothetical scenarios associated with implementing each of these winnable goals, and test how they will differentially impact capital assets in the selected case study regions.


  • Jablonski, Becca, Libby Christensen, Michael Carolan, and Blake Angelo. Rural impacts of regional food planning and development. In preparation, submitting to Regional Studies.

Strengthening Rural-Urban Linkages to Support Rural Economic Development:
the Case of Re-Localized Food Systems

RESEARCH NEED: Between 2009 and 2012 the US Department of Agriculture supported over 2,600 local food initiatives (~$336 Million). These initiatives are primarily concentrated in urban areas where there is a sizeable, growing market for local foods. They are widely understood to support communities, economies, and farmers; however, there have been few, if any, studies that holistically and empirically assess the impacts of farmers’ markets on both urban and rural communities. Using qualitative, economic, and spatial analysis, we will investigate strengthened urban-rural linkages as an economic development strategy by broadly evaluating the farm, community (defined here as wealth creation), and economic impacts of urban-based local food system initiatives.

RESEARCH QUESTION: What are the farm profitability and rural community economic impacts of urban-based local food system initiatives?


  • Use a state-of-the-art multi-regional economic impact modeling strategy to assess the impacts of local food system efforts;
  • Expand beyond traditional economic impact measures to holistic wealth creation indices;
  • Assess farm profitability resulting from participation in local food system efforts;
  • Gather evidence of the economic, wealth creation, and farm-level impacts of local food system initiatives as a strategy for regional development.

APPROACH: Economic Impact Assessment: Through in-depth interviews with willing farmers that sell through the Greenmarkets, we will customize a multi-regional Social Accounting Matrix model and quantify both the total regional economic impact of Greenmarket, as well as the distribution of economic impact in urban and rural locales. Mapping Wealth Creation Impacts: A wealth creation framework conceptualizes wealth as a community’s assets (net of liabilities) that contribute to the wellbeing of an individual or group. Data on eight forms of capital (social, individual, intellectual, natural, built, political, financial, and cultural) will be collected from a wide-range of stakeholders in both urban and rural locales – i.e., planners, political officials, consumers, adjacent businesses. Geographic information systems (GIS) based mapping will illustrate rural-urban linkages and assets and liabilities within each of the rural wealth creation domains. Time series maps will reveal investment flows.