Social Impact and Economic Reach of Food and Agriculture

Agriculture in Virginia is historically and economically significant. The economic impact of Virginia agriculture is reported to be $55 billion annually, with the industry providing more than 357,000 jobs across the state. For every job within the agricultural and forestry sector, another 1.5 jobs is supported as an indirect economic benefit and impact. The annual economic impact results from $2.9 billion in direct agricultural output; $26 billion in value-added industrial output; and an additional $26 billion generated from other agriculture-related business output (Virginia Farm to Table Plan, p.1).

And yet, it is still hard today to put an exact value on the social impact and economic reach of food and agriculture. With 1/2 of 1% of the U.S. population working in production agriculture and the vast majority of people being one or two generations removed from farming, it is easy to forget about the significance of Virginia agriculture and believe shipping food from 1,500 to 8,000 miles away is normal and a better way to live.

Similarly, in our busy schedules, we often take working farms and landscapes for granted and do not notice the beauty of our surroundings, how farming and farmers contribute to the social and moral fabric of society, or consider the economic and community impact of farming operations as we drive to work or go about our daily activities.

Other benefits of agriculture to the community and Virginia include scenic open working landscapes, a strong moral and work ethic, better human health and diet, environmental stewardship, reduction of greenhouse gases, sequestration of carbon, wildlife habitat, and biological diversity.

Since most people today are disconnected from actual farming and food production, it is easy to take working farms and landscapes for granted and not fully appreciate the value of food production and agriculture to a community and our surroundings. Nevertheless, a strong agricultural base and food supply that can serve diverse local, regional and international markets is truly a blessing to be protected, appreciated, and planned for even as our communities grow and change. The next time you drive to work, or have a moment in your busy schedule, take some time to reflect on the social impact and economic reach of food and agriculture in your life and community.

Adapted from the Virginia Farm to Table Plan and an article by Eric Bendfeldt entitled, “The Value of Agriculture to a Community: Why is farming important and why should I care if a farm is lost or goes out of production?”

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