A Grower’s Perspective on the Local Food Economy

Dec 20, 2013 Economy

Rick Stafford is a Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy in the Heinz College at CMU and director of Traffic21, the organization leading the Power of 32 initiative to create a real-time traveler information system. He is also a farm owner and grower of potatoes, green beans and onions. Stafford, his business partner, and their spouses, bought Laurel Vista Farms and took over operations in 1988. Operating the farm allows them to express their love for the mountains and passion for farmland conservation.

The mission was simple, to grow vegetables using methods that, in order of increasing importance, maximize flavor, sustain our farm and the environment and promote human health.

As a grower, Stafford understands the impact of local food economies on the Power of 32 region.

"Why should we import almost all of what we eat in our region sending our dollars to other regions and countries?" asks Stafford. "We all eat. If what we eat is produced in our region, we are healthier and so is our economy. Healthier farms keep open space and a welcome balance between a vibrant urban core and a beautiful and useful rural landscape."

Laurel Vista has grown along with the increased demand for local produce at the retail level. According to Stafford, many consumers now know that food travels on average 1500-2500 miles from farm to table and as a result, local produce is fresher, safer and more nutritious. And they know that buying local produce helps strengthen the region's economy, saves local farms from development and protects the environment.

Laurel Vista Farms celebrates responsible farming in all its forms – conventional, organic and sustainable. They are a proud member of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, the largest statewide, member-based sustainable farming organization in the U.S.

PASA works to bring farmers together to learn from each other, and to build relationships between those farmers and consumers looking for fresh, wholesome, locally and sustainably produced food. The goal is to improve the economic viability, environmental soundness and social responsibility of food and farming systems in Pennsylvania and across the country.