Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

First Advisor

Peter Newton

Second Advisor

Veronica House

Third Advisor

Brian Muller

Fourth Advisor

Mike Kercheval

Abstract

In the last two decades, there has been an increase in interest and support for ‘local’ food among citizens, the private sector, and local governments within the US. Despite this growing interest in local food, small local food producers have, in many places, struggled to make this model of farming a viable business venture. Furthermore, the number of new and beginning farmers in the US decreased by 20% between 2007 and 2012. This low replacement rate could be an indication of rising barriers to entry. But, policy makers have opportunities to lessen some of the challenges that local food producers face. Given this context, this thesis addresses the research question: What are the perceived opportunities for, and barriers to, the development of local food systems, and how can public policy respond? The thesis focuses on Boulder County, Colorado as a case-study example. I conducted interviews with 16 farmers and ranchers that operated farms on agricultural land within Boulder County and six key stakeholders from organizations involved with the agricultural system in Boulder County. The interviews identified the greatest opportunity for farmers and ranchers as, "access to a strong market that demands and supports local food." The most commonly reported challenge was the cost of purchasing land and/or the value of land compared to farm income. Other challenges included: difficulty accessing suitable farmland that was either the right size for farmers’ needs and/or of the appropriate soil quality; high cost of living and cost of labor compared to what farmers/ranchers were able to pay; the necessity of off-farm income to supplement income from farm related activities and barriers to farm diversification that could otherwise enable farmers/ranchers to rely less on off-farm income as a means to continue farming. Interviewees’ recommendations to mitigate these challenges included: create tax incentives for landowners to encourage sale or rent to beginning farmers; pay laborers through other (non-cash) means such as free or low cost on-farm housing or reduce the need for labor through the use of farm technology; and encourage policy makers to discuss and review regulations that limit a farm's ability to diversify on-farm and necessitate off-farm income.

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