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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Local food production could yield big economic benefits

Cassandra West

Food grown locally could boost region's economyIf Midwestern farmers raised the fruit and vegetables eaten in the Heartland, they could create thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in income, according to a study reported recently by the Associated Press.

The Iowa State University study looked at what would happen if farmers in six states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin — raised 28 crops in quantities large enough to meet local demand. The study found that if an ample supply of produce could be grown regionally, it would spur $882 million in sales, more than 9,300 jobs and about $395 million in labor income.

Growing enough food to meet regional demand also wouldn't take much land, said said Michelle Miller, associate director of the University of Wisconsin's Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, which helped fund the study. "That's one of the wild things about it — you can grow a lot on a few number of acres. Anyone who has a garden knows this."

How few acres? One of Iowa's 99 counties could meet the demand for all six states, said Rich Pirog, associate director for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State. The center requested the study after seeing increased demand for food grown closer to home, especially from public schools and colleges.

The study included apricots, asparagus, mustard greens, bell peppers, onions, broccoli, peaches, cabbage, pears, cantaloupe, plums, carrots, raspberries, cauliflower, snap beans, collard greens, spinach, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, strawberries, garlic, sweet potatoes, kale, tomatoes, watermelon and lettuce — both leaf and head.

Crops such as pumpkins, apples and cherries weren't included in the study because the Midwest already grows enough of them to meet local and regional demand. Corn and soybeans are considered grains, not produce.