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'Local Food Economy' Potential for the Yellowstone Region

A stronger local food system could boost economic development in the Yellowstone region. Credit: Deborah C. Smith
A stronger local food system could boost economic development in the Yellowstone region. Credit: Deborah C. Smith
April 8, 2015

LARAMIE, Wyo. - Wyoming, like most states, imports between 90 percent and 95 percent of its food. A Harvard University economics professor who has helped communities in more than three dozen states set up local food systems says the story could be different in the Yellowstone region.

Ken Meter sees local food as an untapped economic-development tool.

"Buying food from farms you know and buying it from processors you know," he said, "where you're really supporting with your consumer dollars a bunch of business relationships that keep money locally."

Farmers' markets are an example most people understand, and there are markets in just about every county - with some operating year-round. But Meter said a true local system goes beyond that, and requires vision and investment in processing, production and distribution.

Local food systems are attractive not only for producers but for consumers, Meter said, because they get to be more demanding.

"If you have things you need that you're not getting," he said, "you can ask them and they can negotiate that with you, instead of just being given a menu of choices someone else far away decides for you."

Meter recently spoke in Billings, Mont., about local food potential for Montana and Wyoming.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY