The Difficulties of Developing Local Food Systems

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  • Title: The Difficulties of Developing Local Food Systems: Perspectives of Farmers and Other Key Stakeholders in Boulder County, Colorado
  • Author(s): Ashley Dancer, Peter Newton, Veronica House
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Food Studies
  • Journal Title: Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
  • Keywords: Beginning Farmers, Challenges, Income Diversification, Local Food, Off-Farm Income, Organic, Policy
  • Volume: 9
  • Issue: 4
  • Year: 2019
  • ISSN: 2160-1933 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2160-1941 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Dancer, Ashley , Peter Newton, and Veronica House. 2019. "The Difficulties of Developing Local Food Systems: Perspectives of Farmers and Other Key Stakeholders in Boulder County, Colorado." Food Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 9 (4): 1-20. doi:10.18848/2160-1933/CGP/v09i04/1-20.
  • Extent: 20 pages


Demand for “local” food has grown dramatically in many places across the US in recent years. Despite this, many producers of local food—including many small, organic, new and beginning, and/or diverse-crop farmers—have struggled to create and maintain viable farming businesses. To bridge these seemingly conflicting trends, a number of stakeholders—including many local governments—have actively tried to create policies and enabling environments that promote local food and that support producers of local food. Indeed, there may be multiple opportunities for decision-makers to lessen some of the challenges that local food producers face. This article asks: What are the perceived opportunities for, and barriers to, the development of local food systems, and how can public policy respond? The article focuses on Boulder County, Colorado as a case-study example. We conducted interviews with sixteen farmers and ranchers that operated farms on agricultural land within Boulder County and six key stakeholders from organizations involved with the agricultural system in Boulder County. Our interviews identified multiple opportunities for the development of local food systems, including the presence of strong markets that demand and support local food. Our interviews also identified multiple challenges, including: the high costs of purchasing land, and the value of land relative to farm income; difficulties in accessing farmland of suitable size and/or soil quality; and high living costs and labor costs. Most farmers that we interviewed relied on off-farm income to supplement their farm income, and many reported multiple regulatory barriers to farm diversification that might otherwise enable them to rely less on this off-farm income. Our interviewees recommended various actions to mitigate the challenges that they identified, including: to create tax incentives that might encourage landowners to sell or rent agricultural land to new and beginning farmers; to pay laborers through non-cash benefits (e.g. free or low cost on-farm housing); and to encourage decision-makers to discuss and review those regulations that currently constrain farm diversification.