Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Local Food & Local Economy

GUEST COLUMNIST JIM FREEMAN | Local Food's Role in Economic Recovery

My Friend Jim Freeman's column appears in today's (october 21, 2009) Kitsap Sun. Read it in the Kitsap Sun. Below is the full text.

The Kitsap Economic Development Alliance last week released a report that 3,000 fewer people are employed in Kitsap County than just a year ago last August. The unemployment rate was 5.1 percent then and now it is 7.4 percent.

That’s not good news. If the statistics are accurate, that means that about 9,000 people are looking for work in Kitsap.

What has this got to do with the local food network?


In 2006, the people in Kitsap County spent $470 million on retail food and beverage purchases. That number could grow significantly if you throw in wholesale and institutional purchases by the military, PSNS, Harrison Medical Center, school districts and nursing homes. It may reach as much as $1 billion.

Less than 2 percent of that went into the pockets of local farmers and value added producers. This means that every one percent shift to local producers in “market share” has the potential to add $10 million of new, wealth-creating income to our community.

Stated in overly simple terms, capturing this benefit requires small shifts in our buying behavior. Changing our behavior one percent at a time. This is what futurists like George Gilder might call a “shifting paradigm.”

Most people think of economic development in terms of job creation. That is a desired benefit, but it is not the mechanism. The engine of economic development is the creation of new wealth through innovation and application of new ideas that people work on. Even in times such as these, new jobs are being created and old jobs eliminated, through changes in how people produce the goods and services we want and need. Most economists agree that the primary engine of job growth comes from the small business sector. That’s right, businesses with under 500 employees will create the majority of new jobs now and in the future, when our local and national economy begins to create jobs rather than lose them to obsolescence.

So how do entrepreneurs and farmers create new wealth? We do it by the efficient application of savings and investment. In building a local food network it is critical to get as many people as possible involved in the market side of the question by buying local. It is just as important to get as many people combining their buy-local behavior with an invest-local behavior.

The Kitsap Community and Agricultural Alliance hosts presentations and discussions on shifting paradigms at its monthly meetings and special events. At our October meeting, Cynthia Mora of the Kitsap Food Co-op, Jean Schanen of the proposed Freshlocal Store in Bremerton and two teachers, Heidi Bell and David St. Clair of Naval Avenue Elementary School, drew pictures for us of how they are creating new wealth in Kitsap by enticing consumers to make small shifts in behavior.

We also inaugurated what we call our “100 From 500” campaign. It is designed to encourage 500 people to invest at least $100 in worthy local food enterprises, like the Puget Sound Meat Producers Cooperative. Most of the money raised will be used to build production capacity by acquiring a locally-built, WSDA-certified, mobile poultry processing unit, enabling local farmers to sell packaged poultry under a WSDA label directly to consumers or through local stores and restaurants. Western Washington residents consume birds numbering in the low tens of millions per year. Why shouldn’t Kitsap-based small farm producers have a chance to supply this demand from their neighbors?

Buying locally creates new wealth. Investing locally helps to keep it and grow it.

Buying and investing locally does more than return cash on investment.

Farmers taking care of the land using best practices provide environmental benefits for rural and urban landscapes alike. Water quality and wildlife habitat improve at virtually no marginal cost.

Relationships built on trust provide fertile ground for developing a unique local culture. Parents working closer to home have more time for their families and community organizations. Local people working together have all we need to make big dents in that pool of 9,000 Kitsap residents looking for work and reverse the trend.

Port Orchard resident Jim Freeman is a volunteer member of the Kitsap Community and Agricultural Alliance, an organization dedicated to the construction of a local food network in Kitsap County and the surrounding counties. For more information, visit

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