The local food revolution has come to Cleveland—big time. The city now has so many community gardens, farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscriptions, urban farms, celebrity chefs, and local-food procurement programs that the environmental web site, SustainLane, recently ranked Cleveland as the second best local-food city in the United States. But the region has only just begun to tap the myriad benefits of local food.
The following study analyzes the impact of the 16-county Northeast Ohio (NEO) region moving a quarter of the way toward fully meeting local demand for food with local production. It suggests that this 25% shift could create 27,664 new jobs, providing work for about one in eight unemployed residents. It could increase annual regional output by $4.2 billion and expand state and local tax collections by $126 million. It could increase the food security of hundreds of thousands of people and reduce near-epidemic levels of obesity and Type-II diabetes. And it could significantly improve air and water quality, lower the region's carbon footprint, attract tourists, boost local entrepreneurship, and enhance civic pride.
Standing in the way of the 25% shift are formidable obstacles. New workforce training and entrepreneurship initiatives are imperative for the managers and staff of these new or expanded local food enterprises. Land must be secured for new urban and rural farms. Nearly a billion dollars of new capital are needed. And consumers in the region must be further educated about the benefits of local food and the opportunities for buying it.
To overcome these obstacles, we offer more than 50 recommendations for programs, investment priorities, and policies. In a period of fiscal austerity, we argue, the prioritymust be to create "meta-businesses" that can support the local food movement on a cash-positive basis.