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Local Foods

Food Systems

Local and regional food systems have grown in popularity over the past decade as shown by the increasing supply of and demand for local foods. Some evidence of this growth includes nearly tripling the number of farmers’ markets, and the initiation of thousands of farm-to-school programs across the U.S. Local foods have often topped consumer and food professional surveys of food trends.


Local food systems operate within the existing framework for all food regulations and policies.  A quilt of public and non-profit organizations work to shape food policy and regulations.  For example, food policy councils are comprised of a broad range of individuals from all aspects of a local food system. They review the local food system to develop policy recommendations and strategies for expanding and improving local food systems to meet specific challenges at local and State levels. A range of local, State, and Federal regulations guide marketing, food safety, licensing, and other activities related to food production and sale.  


Most state Departments of Agriculture (or similar departments) operate programs to promote locally grown products with slogans such as “Georgia Grown” or “Utah's Own.”

For more in-depth information, see USDA Economic Research Service January 2015 Report - Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress.

Local food is defined as the direct or intermediated marketing of food to consumers that is produced and distributed in a limited geographic area. There is no pre-determined distance to define what consumers consider “local,” but a set number of miles from a center point or state/local boundaries is often used.  More importantly, local food systems connect farms and consumers at the point of sale.

Consumers, schools, hospitals and other institutions purchase from farms or buy farm products that originate from known, local farms that preserve the identity of the farm for each item. Each of these varied marketing techniques joins farmers and consumers in the local food system.

Common Sales Points:

  • Farmers markets
  • Pick-Your-Own farms
  • Farm stands
  • Community supported agriculture (CSA) partnerships
  • Many States allow some foods made in home kitchens, or cottage foods, to be sold to the public without meeting commercial food safety standards. Cottage food laws are made on a State-by-State basis to determine which foods are considered “non-hazardous.” This varies based on location, although it generally includes foods that do not need to be refrigerated and do not contain meat.

    Common cottage food products:

    • breads
    • candy
    • cookies
    • jelly
    • honey

    Contact your State agriculture department or extension office for more information about what is legal in your State.

  • Federal, State, and local governments regulate the operation of all food processing facilities, including small-scale processing. Before starting a business, it is important to determine the types of food that can be produced in small-scale facilities and to contact the agencies that regulate licensing and facility inspection. Zoning laws and building codes may also be a factor. In addition to State-level regulations, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) manages food safety issues with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system.

    Contact your State agriculture or health department for more information about how to get started.

  • Generally, direct farm marketing operations require some level of liability insurance. Many pick-your-own businesses have both farm liability and commercial business insurance policies, but coverage depends on the size and type of your business. Since injury to visitors or customers can happen, it is important to limit the liability to the business owner.

    Several States have enacted laws to limit the potential liability of pick-your-own operations, provided the business owner does not create undue risk or engage in reckless conduct. If you have concerns about liability issues or insurance, it is best to contact a lawyer or insurance agent to discuss State and local laws and coverage options.


U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


National Agriculture Law Center.


Agricultural Law Information Partnership

National Agricultural Law Center.



USDA. Agricultural Marketing Service.


United States Department of Agriculture.


USDA. Agricultural Marketing Service.



Forrager Cottage Food Community.


Harvard Law School Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation
ATTRA. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.


University of Minnesota. University of Minnesota Extension.