The numerous benefits associated with localized food production have helped increase its popularity among a diverse cross-section of concerned citizens over the past few decades. Quantitative benefits are often attributed to local food systems, such as improvements to local economies or environmental benefits associated with decreased food transportation distances. Qualitative benefits play an equally vital role in the increasing popularity of local foods. The direct connection between people and agricultural land instills a sense of responsibility among consumers, there is a great deal of pride associated with creating a self-sustaining community, and increasing locally derived nutritional produce in our diet can improve health. This research attempts to analyze the feasibility of supplying the nutritional needs for an 11-county region in Southeastern Minnesota entirely from locally grown foods. The study also evaluates an alternative land-use scenario to illustrate how better utilizing land resources can yield environmental benefits in addition to those already inherent with local food production. Potential foodsheds are mapped to represent the theoretical spatial extent of agricultural resources needed to sustain population within the region. The foodshed model finds optimum locations for growing local food based on production potential and availability of agricultural resources to meet the demands of population centers, while minimizing the total distance to transport local foods to nearby distribution centers. Results show that it is theoretically feasible for Southeastern Minnesota to be entirely sustained on local food production. The average distance a unit of food travels in this theoretical baseline scenario is just under 12 km (7.5 miles). The foodshed model produces a surplus of agricultural supply in the region, thus an alternative land-use scenario was explored that involves removing marginal cropland from cultivation in vulnerable landscapes with high ecological value in an attempt to further increase the environmental benefits of locally grown foods. In comparison with the baseline foodshed model, the alternative land-use foodshed converts 68,000 ha (168,000 acres) of marginal cropland on vulnerable landscapes from annually cultivated land to perennial agriculture. This conversion not only reduces total distance traveled by a unit of food from 11.8 km (7.3 miles) in the baseline scenario to 10.8 km (6.7 miles) in the alternative scenario, but also reduces soil degradation, has positive impacts on surface water quality, and may lead to better wildlife habitat. The multiple benefits demonstrated by this study are encouraging to leaders of the local food movement in Southeastern Minnesota. Results of the study demonstrate that the methodology developed for mapping New York state foodsheds is adaptable to the Midwestern US, and should also be adaptable in other regions of the country.
- geographic information system (GIS)
- land use
- local food