COLUMBIA, Mo. – Local food isn’t just a thing for those who live near a large city, and University of Missouri Extension is trying to figure out how to make local foods work in rural areas.

Through the Local Food Linkages Project, researchers at MU and the University of Nebraska are collaborating to find ways for local farmers build markets for their products in rural America.

That effort begins with local food producers. By filling out surveys, those farmers will help uncover the opportunities and obstacles facing local food growth.

“A lot of the research shows that local food producers near metro areas do the most direct or local food marketing,” said Mary Hendrickson, one of the study’s principal investigators and an MU Extension professor. The USDA Economic Research Service reports average sales of about $11,000 per farm in metro areas from selling directly to consumers, but in rural areas that drops to just more than $6,000 per farm.

From farmers markets and CSAs to schools and grocery stores, local food popularity is on the rise. According to the USDA, there were 7,175 farmers markets in the U.S. in 2011, a 17 percent increase from the previous year and a more than 60 percent increase from 2000.

But Hendrickson noted that marketing local foods includes so much more than farmers markets.

“From people who sell a side of beef to their neighbors to those regularly marketing at farmers markets to people selling to school food services, we want to talk with you,” Hendrickson said. “We don’t know how rural food producers participate in these local food systems and we want to know if there are good opportunities for them to market more locally.”

The study will target the northern Ozarks – Dent, Phelps, Iron, Crawford, Reynolds, Shannon and Texas counties – and the Old Trails Region – Ray, Lafayette, Carroll, Saline and Chariton counties.

MU Extension hopes producers will fill out a first round of surveys, which will be mailed at the end of January to fill out by Feb. 20. This survey will give the researchers an idea of the who and why of local food production. Later surveys will further discern how much income those producers make and what they buy locally to sustain their production. This kind of information will help economic development experts see the economic impact of local food systems.

Consumer focus groups will also help identify people’s motivations and needs when buying local foods.

“It’s about developing a strategy creating a smooth path for connections between farmers and buyers,” Hendrickson said. “We want to put the results to work in Extension right away, but also hope to develop some educational material to help folks develop local food systems in rural areas.”

A $400,000 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative funds this research.

Find more about the Local Food Linkages Project or request a survey at

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