Challenges and opportunities for consumers and producers in Central Iowa local food systems

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Huckins, Erin Leigh
Major Professor
Nair, Ajay
Thompson, Jan R
Dentzman, Katherine
Committee Member
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Natural Resource Ecology and Management
Conventional food systems represent a large-scale and industrial approach to production and distribution of products which often travel long distances to reach consumers. Increasing evidence indicates that this approach, although it provides large quantities of food and is cost-efficient, may be associated with a number of unintended consequences for human health and environmental quality. In contrast, local food systems are characterized by food produced and distributed in a more limited geographic area, often with closer ties between consumers and producers. Interest in local food systems has increased in recent years because they are perceived as a way to improve food system sustainability in terms of economic, environmental and social impacts. Efforts to promote local food systems and markets have been undertaken to increase demand by consumers for local produce. However, consumers who wish to purchase local foods may face challenges related to seasonality of production, consistency of supply, or limited awareness of locations where such foods are offered. Producers of local foods may also face challenges such as limited land, labor, and/or access to supplies of uniform growing stock (e.g., transplants). In the first part of this study, I examined consumer intentions to purchase local foods based on local (central Iowa) consumer survey data I used to create an agent-based model. In this simulation of consumer behavior, I examined how four attributes (environmental impact, food quality, availability and convenience) affect the choices of three virtual consumer persona groups (conventional, opportunistic, or locavore) on decisions to purchase local food. The simulation resulted in an increase in local food purchasing, specifically from the opportunistic persona group, after experimentally applied virtual education. In the second part of this study, I conducted greenhouse experiments to examine different organic fertilizer amendments (bone meal, blood meal, feather meal and fish emulsion, each applied at two rates) and how they influenced organic tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) transplant characteristics. In general, lower application rates of fertilizer amendments were associated with larger plants. Use of these amendments could increase field survival and decrease time to fruit production, thus supporting efforts of local food producers. Taken together, these findings suggest that there are opportunities to create increased demand by consumers and increased supply from producers to support and enhance local food systems.