Friday, June 10, 2011

Why trend monitoring?

There is currently so much interest in local food and work being done to strengthen our local food systems, but we want to know that this effort is resulting in improvements to our local food system. But how do we know that those who are doing this work are experiencing success? How can we get a clear grasp on where we currently are so that we can make appropriate choices about where to put our time and energy? The way that we can do this is through monitoring.

My Masters thesis, A Framework for Monitoring Local and Regional Food Systems, was based upon work I’ve been doing at the Center for an Agricultural Economy, and is an attempt at laying out a process for gathering the most useful information that could inform us as to where the strengths and weaknesses of the various elements of our local and regional food systems are. Two versions of the framework were developed: a comprehensive framework that involves extensive data collection via surveys and a simplified framework that relies upon existing data sources.

In my thesis I took the simplified version of the framework and applied it to the Northeast Kingdom. The data that was gathered supported the work done by Erica Campbell on the Northeast Kingdom Regional Food Systems Strategic Plan, also done at the Center for an Agricultural Economy. It also demonstrates the usefulness of such data compilation, as well as showing that these existing data sources do not show us the entire picture and calls for ideally implementing the more comprehensive framework.

Results from applying the framework to the Northeast Kingdom tell us that when compared with the rest of the country, the Northeast Kingdom overall is far ahead of the curve when it comes to many progressive food system developments, such as; direct-to-consumer sales (such as percent of farms that have CSA’s and the number of farmers markets), on-farm food processing, number of farms per capita, percent of farms producing energy, percent of the population that is obese, and in organic production and sales rates. The Northeast Kingdom is on par with the US in its unemployment rate, percent of the population below the poverty level, food insecurity rate, vegetable consumption rates, and percent of population that are high school graduates. The Northeast Kingdom places behind the US in many of the economic indicators; percent of the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher, median household income, average price per acre for farmland, as well as the percent of farmland in vegetable production.

There are many more results, and for those who are interested it will be posted on the CAE website. If you have any questions about this framework for monitoring local food systems, feel free to contact Heather Davis at 802-472-5840 or


  1. Keep up the great work, Heather!

    One indicator that comes to mind, in terms of gauging the health and sustainability of our food system, is # of farms where ownership and management responsibilities are currently shared between older and younger generations working on the farm.

    A tough # to find maybe, but have you by any chance come across any such data?

    A high % or increasing # would suggest that farms are successfully being transferred between older and younger generations, and food production on larger, more established farms in the NEK can be sustained. A decreasing # over time would imply that we have some serious work to do to address the barriers to farm transition between older and next generations and farms being lost to other land uses.

  2. Hi Ben!

    That is a good idea...

    I'm sure that that's not data that's available through the US Ag Census. But, it could potentially be something to add to the surveys that we will be implementing. The Ag Census does have data on the average age of farmers, which would be similar.

    I forgot to send my thesis to you, like I said I would. I'll do that right now.

    Thanks for the feedback!