Cash-in on the local food movement

Studies show that tourists want to sample locally grown food.

Some businesses have learned how to cash-in by serving local food to both tourists and local residents within their communities. Columbia, Missouri is an example of such a community. A handful of restaurants in the downtown area feature some or all local food menus.

Recently, a team of Michigan State University Extension educators were invited to teach a workshop at the University of Missouri in Columbia. During the visit, we expressed an interest in sampling some local food and brew. After asking around, we learned there were a few restaurants in the downtown Columbia area that might satisfy these inquiries. Our opportunity to sample local food was a rewarding and memorable experience because it connected us to the community in a way that felt real; we sensed an authentic connection to the area.

In the above case, the restaurants serving local food were found by asking people and using our phones’ GPS to pinpoint the exact location of the establishment. A 2011 Extension Journal research paper by Michael Dougherty and Gary Paul Green credits word of mouth (WOM) - which also includes phone, texts and other personal technologies - as one of the most effective ways to communicate what a community has to offer the visitor.

Dougherty and Green stated, “In the case of local food tourism networks, WOM is not only a tool for marketers, but is the key medium that links agricultural producers with restaurateurs, restaurateurs with end consumers, restaurateurs with producers, and producers with direct end consumers. In short, WOM is the bonding mechanism of local food tourism networks.”

Are people in your community aware of the farmers markets and food establishments that serve locally grown food? Can visitors locate those facilities on their smart phones? Are residents and local employees aware of local food options? What can a community do to begin to build a local food movement?

The following sites provide information to help a community or business start to cash-in on the local food movement:

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