Local food system stakeholders met to compare notes on economic opportinities and challenges.

An eclectic and committed group of local food system stakeholders met at the invitation of Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin to compare notes on economic opportinities and challenges.

To frame the discussion, some interesting numbers on the magnitude of local activity (here only using King County 2007 numbers by Vicki Sontag for a population of 1.8 million population)
--local demand for food is close to $314 Million annually
--locally produced food sales total only $21 Million

Sliced another way, while 90 percent of locally produced food is consumed locally, only 6 percent of what is consumed here was produced here. So no matter you count it, there is a huge "appetite" that our current local producers are not able to satisfy.

And while there were other important stats about available land for cultivation in the service of all that unmet local demand, the big picture started to get less clear once the group's various participants started to explain how they saw the current situation. What follows is a sampling overheard.

A distributor who transports Olympic and Kitsap produce to Seattle by sail-powered boats regularly snatches up small farmers' entire crops and sees the limits on his direct-to-consumer business limited by available product.

A statewide farmers market representative claims there are now too many markets and not enough penetration into the "secondary market segment" of shoppers to warrant more farming focused on retail farmers markets.

Small farm observers note that with the time farmers devote to regular distribution and sales at farmers markets, some don't have time to raise the crops.

With about half of a typical household food budget spent on meals outside the home, some in the group argued that local food production to really have an impact, it has to expand and make greater penetration into those distribution and retail venues.

This last point indicates for me the huge opportunity to capture multiple and intersecting benefits--and not necessarily in restaurants. As CityLab7 has already begun testing with the Market Meal Experience, collective consumption (of intentionally sourced ingredients and value-added local products) holds intriuging promise as a structure to accelerate serendipity, feed appetites for shared experience around quality foods, and directly support a local food economy.