Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Community Development and Applied Economics
There is growing consumer interest in locally produced food and farmers and retailers play an important part in this growing niche market. Up-to-date and reliable data are necessary to create efficient distribution lines, but there is currently a dearth of aggregate data available to assess the distribution channels of local foods. The research questions for this thesis are motivated by the potential for growth in the local food market, and a need to investigate the role of consumer co-ops in achieving that potential. In Article 1, results from 67 surveys by consumer co-op managers and memberworkers from the American Northeast are reported. A conservative estimate for the Northeast co-ops’ contribution to the local food market is $21,253,750 annually, an average of 17.2% of co-ops’ expenditure being spent on local food. Article 1 identifies the consistency with which various food categories are sourced locally by co-op, and identifies the reasons for and barriers to sourcing locally. An ordinary least squares model reveals that the average percent locally sourced by co-ops whose mission includes sourcing locally is 12.7-percent higher than those whose mission does not include sourcing locally. No difference in percent locally sourced is found between co-ops from different settings (urban, suburban, rural), or Cooperative Grocer ranking (large, medium, small). Article 2 reports on the follow-up unstructured interviews with 58 co-op managers and member-workers. The five principal barriers to sourcing locally – locating local producers, co-op cooperation, organic certification, competition, and distribution – are discussed and various solutions that co-op managers have implemented are described. It is argued that co-ops act as local food hubs in the local food market, providing local producers with a year-round outlet for their products. Alleviating the specific barriers to sourcing locally will allow co-ops to achieve their potential in that role. Overall, improved communication among co-ops and between co-ops and farmers can begin to address some barriers to sourcing locally. Further, other groups such as NOFA, regional localvore groups, state agricultural extension agencies, and others can continue to facilitate communication and share pertinent information. It further suggests that filling some of the gaps can contribute to alleviating barriers identified by co-op managers and member workers. If co-ops are interested in sourcing more of what they sell from local producers, using percent of expenditure locally sourced as a marker can be useful for setting specific goals, while addressing the barriers to sourcing locally can help co-ops and producers meet these goals.
Michahelles, Marina, "The Distribution of Local Food Through Consumer Cooperatives in the Northeast" (2008). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 154.