A Case for Food Advocacy


Every dollar spent at a local business produces 1½ to 4 times the number of jobs as a dollar spent in a similar non-local business.

--Business Alliance for Local Living Economies

By Sherri Dugger

I spoke recently on two discussion panels at the Northeast Indiana Local Food Forum event in Fort Wayne, Indiana. One panel dealt with policy that affects local food producers. The other focused on the technical and financial support that is available for them. These topics aren’t exactly different.

   Local food systems can directly (and positively) affect economic growth of small towns and cities. Conversely, economic growth can support and promote local food systems. Policy ties them together. If policy provides technical and financial support for our food growers and local food systems, we all win. Unfortunately, we’re hardly winning.

   In small rural towns across America, history has taught us that if we do not support localized food systems that involve many partners and players, those small towns will die. Many of them already have.

   To address economic growth and local food systems simultaneously, then, we must develop food value chains made up of stakeholders who share the same values, who strive for transparency, and who work for and support the production of healthy, fresh foods traveling as few food miles as possible. We must fill rooms with policy makers, food council members, growers, aggregators, processors, distributors, retailers, wholesale institutions and eaters, and we must get them talking. The outcome of these conversations can be the creation of sustainable food systems that benefit each of the aforementioned players.

      As entrepreneurs and business owners, we are tasked with managing the day-to-day details of our operations—keeping records and books, tending to customers and employees, and promoting our goods and services. These tasks are as important as the making of the good or service itself. If we fail to do any one of them, we will likely fail at them all. But there is something else we must also do to ensure our success.

   We must advocate.

   Every time I speak at an event, I inevitably wind my way to the current issues at hand and our need to keep abreast of what’s going on at higher levels of government. I usually also wind up talking about our social responsibilities to speak up regarding what we see. The policies being introduced at state and federal (and oftentimes international levels) can do much to help—or harm—efforts to build local food businesses or systems. Whether you’re a food system worker, a business owner, or an eater, we all have to pay attention.

   Early in the policy discussion at the Northeast Indiana event, I pointed out that not all “food” policy actually has the word food in it. Tax reform, access to healthcare, and policies regarding climate change all directly affect growers’ abilities to produce food. Notably, legislation being introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-IA), known as H.R. 4879/H.R. 3599 (the “Protect Interstate Commerce Act”), might not seem to be legislation about food, but, in fact, it is an attack on small farmers, animal welfare, and the rights of states to regulate agricultural practices within their borders. Policies like these not only affect our environment, but also impact our rights as consumers to access and choose healthy, locally grown foods.

   There is a great deal out of our control in this world. We must do everything we can to harness and control our community power. We can choose where and how we spend our dollars. We can choose what we want to eat. We can decide how our food is raised and grown. And so we must go into this business of food with our eyes, ears, and mouths wide open. If we work every day to grow local businesses and local food systems without also becoming advocates for these systems, we will fail. Localization offers us an avenue to take back control. Advocacy provides the roadmap.