Evaluating the Economic Impacts of Local and Regional Food Systems: Best Practices Webinar

January 4, 2016 - Becca Jablonski, Dawn Thilmany, <$authorEmail>

This webinar is an overview of the local food economic impact toolkit funded by USDA AMS.

This webinar is given by:

  • Becca Jablonski, Special Assistant Professor of Food Systems and Regional Economics Colorado State University
  • Dawn Thilmany, Professor – Outreach Coordinator Colorado State University
  • Rich Pirog, CRFS Director

Evaluating the Economic Impacts of Local and Regional Food Systems: Best Practices Webinar Slides

Webinar Transcript:

Rich Pirog: Hello. This is Rich Pirog. I'm the Senior Associate Director for the Michigan State University's Center for Regional Food Systems. I'd like to welcome you to this special webinar here on December 14th evaluating the economic impacts of local and regional food systems' best practices using the USDA AMS Toolkit. This webinar is sponsored by Michigan State University's Center for Regional Food Systems with funding from USDA AMS and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Just to give you a little background on the Center for Regional Food Systems, and I'll also explain why we're sponsoring this particular webinar, the center was started in 2012. Its mission is to develop regionally integrated, sustainable regional food systems. The Michigan Good Food Charter, which was established in 2010, is the foundation of framework for the Michigan work of the center. There are six goals around good food. When we talk about good food we talk about food that's healthy, fair, green and affordable for all Michiganders. Our work at the Center for Regional Food Systems includes the collaboration infrastructure around the Michigan Good Food Charter, food access and health, farm institution and farm to school, healthy food financing, most recently with a number of other partners the Michigan Good Food Fund, food hubs, particularly our work with the Michigan Food Hub Network which also started in 2012, food systems planning and food policy, organic production and marketing, beginning farmers, and also new work in city-region food systems in a global context. So the backstory--why is the Center for Regional Food Systems co-sponsoring this webinar for this particular toolkit with Dawn Thilmany and Becca Jablonski from Colorado State University? Well, the rationale for this stems from the center's work around the Michigan Good Food Charter, which starting in 2014 sort of in the second phase of this work to try to achieve the six goals around the Good Food Charter by 2020, we decided to take a collective impact approach. And part of that collective impact approach, and we talk about collective impact, there's five conditions with shared measurement as one of those five conditions. We felt we could build the collaboration infrastructure better across organizations if we had more energy and more synergy around shared measures across the goals of the charter. Many organizations in Michigan are already doing work on one or more of those six goals. So we started this project in the Fall of 2014 in shared measurement, and through our research we found that particularly the goals around the economics of local food which deal with the first three of these six goals you're looking at, and then the healthy food access goal were the ones that many of our Michigan partners were working on. It's not that goals five and six weren't important but that's where there was a lot of energy. And so through that work we've done surveys, we've had a number of discussions with our advisory committee working across a number of organizations in the state, we found that in order for us to have shared measurement type activities we needed to be able to sort of lift the literacy around healthy food access and economic impacts of local food so that we could speak a more common language in the state. And so using the toolkit we engaged our colleagues at Colorado State University and some of their colleagues that work on the USDA AMS Toolkit project. We offered a basic economic indicator training in October. Sixty-five people in 26 organizations across the state of Michigan participated. We then had an advanced class of which 10 people from about four organizations participated. We're also developing some secondary data tools. And after offering this beginning workshop, and the advanced workshop, it became clear that other people in Michigan who weren't able to come to that initial session representing many organizations that weren't included and many organizations that were, we just had a limited number of people we could have at the workshop, they wanted to sort of have more information about just the basics of what that initial workshop in October was about. So Becca Jablonski and Dawn Thilmany agreed to work with us on this particular webinar. We also offered to open this up beyond Michigan's doors to other people around the country. So we're really glad to be able to co-sponsor this webinar with both Dawn and Becca. And I'll just very briefly share their backgrounds. Becca is a Special Assistant Professor of Food Systems and Regional Economics in the Department of Ag and Resource Economics at Colorado State. Her research focuses on understanding processes of rural regional development with an emphasis on the strategies to support entrepreneurship. And Becca holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University and has done some really cutting-edge on economic analysis of food hubs. Dawn Thilmany McFadden is a Professor of Agribusiness and is an Agribusiness Extension Economist with Colorado State. She's been in that role since 1997. She specializes in analyzing markets and consumer behavior in local, organic and other value-added food segments. She's published over 75 journal articles on consumer behavior, ag markets and food systems and presented similar material to over 200 extension audiences. So Dawn will do the first part and walk us through a bit more about how the USDA AMS Toolkit came to be. And then Becca will lead us through the core of what was the basic workshop that was provided here in Michigan. 

Dawn Thilmany: This is all made possible because the USDA Ag Marketing Service had the vision to realize there was an increasing interest in not just food systems but try to do a set of evaluations about how food system innovations may affect different parts of society. We were the team they actually brought together to specifically look at economics. And without being able to spend the time to list all their names but you'll see I had a very rich team to draw on. So although we're reporting the outcome realize that this was a team effort of a lot of clever minds and some good teamwork to try to give you guys the best practices. And that's exactly what today is going to be about. The Ag Marketing Service gave us the pretty lofty charge of giving them a better insight and standardized approach that they could offer to their stakeholders and clientele to actually analysis what the economic implications of some of their investments might be. Obviously this is framed by the fact [inaudible] a really nice new set of resources and initiatives that they've been able to give investments into communities with and their increasing capacity to offer some technical assistance to communities as well. And so, again, they wanted our insight as kind of the people out in the field who've been thinking hard about this for a while, about how they might best do that in partnership with land grants but also community leaders like many of you probably on the call. So when we first met as a team, we decided to kind of break this into modules. We're quite aware as the polls show that people are coming into this all the way from a beginner perspective to someone who's been doing a lot of economic impact evaluation, but perhaps not in this particular sector, or how to be really careful and weary about how food systems initiatives might look different. So the first four modules which I'll be covering quickly here today basically just even guides the process you would want to do to do an assessment. And a lot of you are very clever and savvy to the fact that when you're evaluating projects some of these things have to happen in all cases. We'll try to highlight mostly today how those processes might vary a bit when we're talking about food systems. And then Becca will continue on with some of the more in depth modules that are offered up and fully available online as PowerPoints now and there will be publications that start getting into the real technical aspects of when you're starting to put numbers to these economic implications. So the whole toolkit is available. And we realize you all might use it in parts but also might find [inaudible] the whole thing useful. The first thing that we really covered setting up Module 1 is that the reason food systems probably deserves its own little kind of a toolkit is because they're so diverse and so nebulous in a way and they're so [inaudible] in nature that although we can give you some rules of thumb and best practices they're all things where your community itself has to dictate how some of it is framed. So the first thing we urge in the toolkit is to assemble a very diverse project team that recognizes anything you say is part of your food system whether it's all the way back to water and land, all the way up to public health and consumer choices, however you're framing that food system, you need to have other team members that represent those stakeholders, establishing a realistic timeline, and we gave you one example at the bottom from a project that was done to allow people to start having an understanding of when they would be chiming in. And then also scoping that study appropriately. Once you have the diverse project team you can look at what all you're going to include, and because of maybe budget or time constraints, what you might not be able to include at least that first phase. Modules 2 and 3 I go through pretty quickly here. But we do have a fairly extensive discussion and list of first secondary data sources. Many of you might know some of these but I know I learned a lot that for different pockets of data you might need depending on how you scope this story they're all out there. But sometimes it's the navigation of finding them so we try to give a one-stop shop where we list all those, talk about some of their strengths and weaknesses, but then also do dive into what primary data is probably going to be at least partially necessary. Again, something this [inaudible]-based. It's very likely all the information you need to answer your questions won't be available. And we divide that discussion a little bit into both qualitative and quantitative methods you might use. We even gave some examples of some surveying and interview methods that have been used by other communities. Module 4 we turn into a discussion of basically data interpretation. Sometimes we amass a lot of information, we might make a nice chart or a graph, but we really have to think hard about what we're going to let the data do for our team. And so we talk a little bit about what's commonly used which is comparative of benchmarking analysis. Comparative would be that a place in the country that maybe you want to be more like and emulate and compared to where their numbers are on access to healthy foods or land conserved for food production. Or if you see this being a long-term project for your community starting to do benchmarking. Where are we now? Where will we look like five years from now? All those are important things you might to do but, again, this would be the point in the assessment when that conversation could probably come to life. And also where you can start talking about linkages across the system. Although the data's generally assembled in buckets once people see what the data looks like from maybe their core interest area you can start looking for some linkages about where there might be connections between some of the land issues along with the farmer issues, or farmers on the ground relative to what your supply chains look like. We do give some words of caution in the toolkit about what was correlation versus causality. Although you might see some clear connections we'll caution you that every difference you see across time or across places may not be significant but it's at least worth a good conversation. And then we'll even give some of you who aren't familiar with them some interpretations of how you might use spatial analysis techniques and give both some descriptions and some great examples of cluster mapping, location quotients and some other terminology that if nothing else you should be aware of. And it'd be great if you actually might have a chance to actually explore some of those methods in your assessment as well. And, again, I hope it was okay that I went through those quickly. We're trying to make up some time. But we will have questions at the end as well. For now I'd like to turn it over to Becca Jablonski who will do the remainder of this. Are you okay?

Read the full Evaluating the Economic Impacts of Local and Regional Food Systems: Best Practices Webinar Transcript 



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