A Taste of ICMA-MSU’s 2015 Local Food Survey Results

Survey results indicate there are many activities common among communities that are strengthening local economies, creating healthier communities, and providing support to low-income residents.

ARTICLE | Jan 13, 2016

In the coming months, ICMA will release the full findings from its survey on local government engagement in food system activities. Conducted for the second time and, again, in partnership with the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, this survey highlights changes and trends since 2012 and provides new insights from the 2,237 respondents. The good news is that, while not yet an institutionalized area of activity for all local governments, results indicate there there are many activities common among communities of diverse sizes, locations, and forms of government that are strengthening local economies, creating healthier communities, and providing much-needed support to low-income residents.

Across the board, common activities supported by local governments with policies or programs in 2015 included the keeping of livestock or bees in residential/nontraditional areas, farmers markets, farmland preservation, and community gardening. Local governments also support these and a wide range of other activities through sharing information or facilitating connections, participation in local food councils, official plan or strategy documents, and/or collaboration with nearby communities.

More than half of local governments identified at least one department with food programs or policies within their scope of responsibility. Planning, public health/environmental health, economic development, and the manager’s office were the most common responses.

For the first time, local governments were asked to identify the motivations and driving forces behind food-related activities in their communities. Largely consistent with departmental responsibility data, top priority areas included public health, community development, and economic and workforce development. Public health and economic development were especially high priorities reported for county governments, as was agricultural land preservation.

Recognizing there are many types of partners that may be interested in supporting local food system activities, local governments were also asked about the degree of influence each presents in their communities. 

  • Nearly 1,000 communities identified at least one type of stakeholder as a “primary driver” of local efforts, with local or national nonprofits topping the list at 20.5%.
  • Respondents were more inclined to attribute just “some influence” to each of the 11 types of stakeholders mentioned, notably, local government staff (43.5%), residents or resident groups (41.3%), and local elected officials (41.2%).
  • Universities, regional planning commissions or councils of governments, philanthropy, and the federal government were most frequently cited as having no influence, though these entities can often be sources of funding or technical expertise.

Specific to federal support, the survey also captured local governments’ awareness of, use of, and interest in various departments’ programs applicable to food system activities. While the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program was once again the most frequently used program, awareness of and interest in other types of programs, such as the Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Promotion Program, appear to have grown. 

The findings of this survey begin to paint a clearer picture of potential roles and opportunities for different types of local governments and their partners in supporting local food systems. 

ICMA and the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems are continuing our analysis of this rich data set and will share further information in the weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, we invite you to contact Abigail Rybnicek at ICMA, Laura Goddeeris at MSU, or and visit any of these jointly-produced resources:

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