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Local food conference invites attendees to rethink Idaho’s food system

Lex Nelson

It’s no secret that the local food movement has been gaining ground rapidly in recent years. According to the Farmers Market Coalition, the number of farmer’s markets registered with the United States Department of Agriculture has more than quadrupled since 1994, and in 2017, Business Insider offered up an article expounding on why investors should keep a keen eye on the rising demand for local food, citing a Packaged Facts study showing the local food industry jumped from $5 billion to $12 billion between 2008 and 2014, and is predicted to hit $20 billion next year. All of that growth has been spurring conversation not only among foodies and farmers but academics, economists and corporate giants.

On Thursday, Oct. 18, all of those groups and more will have the chance to make their voices heard at the University of Idaho Extension-run 2018 Balancing Profitability and Access in Local Food Systems conference, which will fill the Riverside Hotel in Boise from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Though U of I has hosted other conferences on local food, the theme of this one sets it apart.

“This is our first [conference] specifically focusing on using an economic lens for examining our system of food,” said Lauren Golden, the associate professor in the Extension’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences who is organizing the event.

Woman at market

The Idaho-focused conference will kick off with talks from keynote speakers Neva Hassenin and Lauren Gwin, both academics and local food pioneers. Hassenin is a professor of environmental studies at the University of Montana and authored Changing the Way America Farms: Knowledge & Community in the Sustainable Agriculture Movement, while Gwin is the associate director of Oregon State University’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems. They’ll be followed by discussions with local farmers, U of I professors, USDA representatives and others focused on topics like the supply chain, buying preferences and the community impact of farmers markets. The day will wrap up with a group brainstorming session focused on, as the event summary puts it, “ways to cultivate a local food economy to create jobs, invigorate small farms and businesses, and keep precious dollars in our Idaho communities.”

“At the afternoon session, people will be able to identify ‘What does Idaho need next?’ [and] ‘What’s the next shift in the local food movement?” Golden said, adding, “I’m looking forward to hopefully jazzing up everyone in the room.”

Photo credit:  University of Idaho Extension