The unprecedented demand for local and regionally identified foods continues to grow in Virginia and across the United States. For the purpose of Virginia Farm to Table Plan efforts, local is defined as grown and produced in Virginia. The demand for locally-grown food has also created a myriad of economic and social opportunities for agricultural producers, entrepreneurs and communities. Because the food system is so fundamental and closely interconnected, its significance for economic vitality and community viability of a particular place cannot be overstated.
Families and households in Virginia spend over $19 billion annually on food purchases. The purchasing power these food dollars represent can be a powerful economic driver within Virginia’s local farm and food economy. Encouraging the continued development of Virginia’s food and farm economy can also impact individual and community health outcomes and improve Virginians access to fresh, whole nutritious foods.
Virginia was recently recognized as an emerging leader in the Nation’s local food movement. The development of Virginia’s local food movement has experienced growth through many different initiatives and businesses. Farmers markets are the most visible component of the local food movement, and Virginia has experienced significant growth in farmers markets over the past ten years.
At the same time, new business enterprises and community initiatives have been incubated and expanded across the Commonwealth. These businesses and initiatives include food hubs, cooperatives, produce auctions, online farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), urban and community gardens, food policy councils and working groups, Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters, crop mobs and gleaning clubs, farm-to-school, university, hospital and institutional procurement programs.
However, challenges remain and a more concerted statewide effort is needed to develop supply, markets, infrastructure, programs and policies to optimize the economic framework and access of this movement.