Local Food Systems

The Issue

The American Public Health Association defines a sustainable food system as “one that provides healthy food to meet current food needs while maintaining healthy ecosystems that can also provide food for generations to come, with minimal negative impact to the environment; encourages local production and distribution infrastructures; makes nutritious food available, accessible, and affordable to all; is humane and just—protecting farmers and other workers, consumers, and communities.”

Included in a local food system are “farm to where you are” initiatives. As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), farm-to-where-you-are programs promote the delivery of regionally grown farm produce to community institutions, farmers markets and individuals. Institutions, such as schools, hospitals, worksites and other community organizations, sell and distribute the fresh produce at cafeterias and other onsite dining and meeting facilities. Farm produce is also sold to the public at community farmers markets and packaged for direct delivery to individuals and households through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.

According to the definition adopted by the U.S. Congress in the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, the total distance that a product can be transported and still be considered a “locally or regionally produced agricultural food product” is less than 400 miles from its origin, or within the state in which it is produced. Many Midwest states such Nebraska define “local” as 250 miles or less.

Food Policy Councils

As defined by the Community Food Security Coalition, food policy councils “bring together stakeholders from diverse food-related sectors to examine how the food system is operating and to develop recommendations on how to improve it.” Currently states around Nebraska (e.g., Iowa and Colorado) have active food policy councils, but Nebraska has yet to develop such a structure. The Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition is seeking ways in which the state of Nebraska can move forward in this area.


There is a significant amount of existing research related to traditional food distribution vehicles including grocery stores, supermarkets, schools, restaurants and worksites and their impact on healthy eating. However, limited research has examined the positive impact of local food systems on improving people’s health, as well as building community and improving local economies. The Center is committed to examining how local food systems may be related to health outcomes and behaviors (e.g., increased fruit and vegetable consumption).


Hospital Vending Machine Healthfulness

With partners Panhandle Public Health Department and Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the Center designed and implemented focus groups with hospital employees and conducted stakeholder interviews with vending machine suppliers to identify facilitators and barriers of incorporating healthier vending in three hospitals across the Panhandle Public Health Department in Nebraska. Read the final report here.

Farmers Market Survey

Public Health Solutions (PHS), a local health department based in Crete, Neb., that serves Fillmore, Gage, Jefferson, Saline and Thayer counties hired the Center to create a survey to assess their farmers markets. They wanted to capture information about consumers’ shopping behaviors, as well as their attitudes and perceptions of the markets, in order to identify potential areas of need for improvement. Read the final report here.

Food Environment Measures Resource Guide

Availability alone does not tell the whole story of healthy food access in America. A majority of measures currently used to study healthy food access have focused on environment and availability more so than store viability and consumer behavior. Less is known about consumer shopping behaviors and store-owners and managers’ operational and business barriers and practices that limit their ability to incorporate healthier foods.

This guide to food environment measures created by the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition highlights this gap in previous research, and allows researchers and other professionals to identify potentially relevant measures for their food access work. It helps to identify similar measurements that can be used across varied research environments, contexts and geographical settings in order to identify more universal best practices. It also helps to gain a better understanding of what can help improve access by measuring initiatives in a more comprehensive manner.

Nebraska Food System Assessment

In 2012, the Center conducted a needs assessment of the Nebraska food system. First reviewed was secondary data examining the food environment in Nebraska. The Center then developed and implemented surveys and focus groups to assess consumers’, food producers’ and key stakeholders’ perceptions of and participation with the food systems throughout Nebraska. This assessment also explored ideas for better understanding and improving local food systems to create a foundation for community engagement, implementation and platforms for change related to childhood obesity, food security and healthy food access for Nebraska residents.

Read the report here.

Farm to School

The Center led Farm to School efforts in Douglas County through a Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant awarded to the Douglas County Health Department by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Local Food Advocacy Groups

Dr. Amy Yaroch, the Center’s executive director, is a Board member of the Nebraska Food Cooperative and Slow Food Omaha.

For More Information

Promoting a Healthier Next Generation” information and tips for parents, presented by Dr. Amy Yaroch, Center executive director, at Westside Community Schools’ “Food (R)evolution” event in Omaha, Neb.

“Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues” Read here

American Public Health Association’s Policy Statement Toward a Healthy, Sustainable Food System Read here

Community Food Security Coalition’s North American Food Policy Council Visit Website

Iowa Food Systems Council Visit Website

Local Food News in the Omaha World-Herald:

“Local food push ripe for debate,” May 28, 2010 Read article

“Selling small towns on local grocers,” January 2, 2011 Read article

Local Food Resources

Aiki Farm
Aksarben Village Farmers Market
The Benson Brewery
BIG Garden
Big Muddy Urban Farm
Black Sheep Farms
Block 16
Blue Planet Natural Grill
The Boiler Room
Le Bouillon
Buy Fresh, Buy Local Nebraska
Camp Creek Acres Produce
Center for Rural Affairs
Chisholm Family Farm
City Sprouts
Common Good Farm
Community CROPS
Culprit Cafe & Bakery
Dante’s Pizzeria
The Darlin’ Reds
Dolce Cafe
Environmental Element of Omaha by Design
Family Farmed
Farm to School
Florence Mill Farmers Market
Fox Run Farms
The French Bulldog
Gifford Park Community Garden
Golden Hills RC&D
The Grey Plume
Iowa Dept of Ag and Land Stewardship
Iowa Food Co-op
Iowa Food Systems Council
Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Assn
Iowa Network for Community Agriculture
Iowana Farm
J Coco
Jackson Street Tavern
Kitchen Table
Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Liberty Tavern
Local Dirt
Local Harvest
Localmotive Food Truck
Loess Hills Collaborative CSA
Lot 2
Lone Tree Foods
McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe
Medinger’s Market
Nebraska Department of Agriculture
Nebraska Food Co-op
Nebraska Fruit & Vegetable Growers Assn
Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society
Nishnabotna Naturals
No More Empty Pots
North Country Farms
Old Market Farmers Market
Old Nelly Farms
One Farm
Pawnee Pride Meats
Practical Farmers of Iowa
Prairie Plate Restaurant
Range West Beef
Rhizosphere Farm
Robinette Farms
Sage Bistro
School Food FOCUS
School Meals That Rock
Shadow Brook Farm
Slow Food Nebraska
Southwest Iowa Food and Farm Initiative
Stick & Stone Brick Oven Bakery
Sustainable Table
Thistles & Clover
Tomato Tomato
Twisted Cork Bistro
Two Birds Bakery
USDA’s Know Your Farmer
V Mertz
Village Pointe Farmers Market
Women, Food and Agriculture Network