Although Berea’s unemployment rate of 7.1% is significantly below the national average, there are still 963 unemployed citizens living in Berea. Unemployment not only has a negative effect on the local economy, but it also endangers families whose financial crises may prevent them from being able to afford an adequate supply of food. Even if a family has enough money for food, it is rare that they can afford or even have access to healthy, fresh food options. Berea needs to increase its food security (a community that has greater food security means that every resident has consistent access to healthy, nutritionally adequate and sustainable food options).
If we were to localize Berea’s food economy, both of these problems would be solved: according to Michael Shuman’s analysis, localizing the food economy has the potential to create over 5,000 jobs in the community while simultaneously ensuring greater food security. In fact, even if only 25% of these jobs were created, Berea would still generate over 1,435 new jobs paying a total of $53,000,000 annually, which would be more than enough to put every resident back to work. The creation of a localized food system would be beneficial in other ways, such as supporting local farmers and protecting Berea from a food crisis in case of a disaster scenario.
The first step towards localizing the food economy is to conduct a Community Food Systems Assessment, which helps us to identify the needs and challenges facing the current local food economy. The assessment has begun, and we have started to answer many questions about Berea’s food system, such as: who produces food, how much food is produced, what types of food is produced, where does that food go, what type of food is consumed, etc. This assessment is crucial in the creation of a localized food economy, as it will allow us to address specific problems and opportunities in the community.