Food and Wellness Trends Create Opportunities for Cities and Counties!

By Kim Briesemeister, Principal & Sarah Blake, Sr. Business Attraction & Marketing Manager 

By now, most cities have been introduced to trends tied to community health and wellness including community gardens, culinary kitchens and incubators, food deserts, farm to table eating and knowing where your food is coming from.

For cities, the objective is to understand how to capitalize on these trends, and create initiatives that benefit both residents AND the business community.

According to the American Community Garden Association (ACGA), there are an estimated 18,000 community gardens throughout the US and Canada, and Earth Media Group observed that the majority of those who took up the gardening trend last year are millennials. That’s a lot of young people shaping their food environment. So where are these gardens and what are cities doing to participate in these trends? Most gardens are urban in nature and are generally started to address some sort of shortage of available food, mainly fresh greens to start with, in a geographic area. The City of Dania Beach, Florida created a very successful program – “The PATCH – People’s Access to Community Horticulture”, that has stimulated community involvement unlike any other program offered by the city.

The main purpose of the PATCH is to create an environmentally and economically sustainable urban farming system within the community, that creates a network of secure healthy food sources of naturally grown vegetables and fruits, while providing local jobs and vocational training in the sustainable agricultural industry to the residents of the community; welcoming all communities and individuals interested in urban farming. The PATCH enhances the quality of urban life through the creation of an integrated relationship between residents, community leaders, merchants and educators. Dedicated to promoting healthy living, improved nutrition, therapeutic activities and environmental responsibility, the PATCH provides an educational component, partnerships are formed with local schools to utilize the garden as a mechanism to introduce students to science, technology, engineering, math, environmental responsibility and cooperation.

However, just starting a garden won’t necessarily create economic wealth or opportunities for businesses. In another south Florida city, the idea of having access to healthy foods expanded to include a culinary commercial kitchen where residents and businesses could access a government run commercial kitchen. The three-part program will include training and educating the youth on healthy eating habits, rental space for established food entrepreneurs, and incubators to promote new business growth in the economically challenged northwest section of the city.

The innovative part of the program is that the city used an aging community center that already had a large kitchen area for catering events that was completely underutilized. By adding a few additional commercial kitchen appliances and systems, the space became operational for nominal cost to the city, while providing an additional revenue stream.

About half of all incubators are urban in nature, like community gardens, which is attributed to the concentration of populations in urban environments. The big difference between the two is that a city has far more opportunity to create wealth for its population with an incubator because nurturing new businesses can be an economic generator for the city at large.

Another big trend is the organic trend and organic “hotspots”.

Although it’s a highly-misunderstood label, in general the public believes they are eating better if the label says a product is organic. One of the trends is to push more products into consumer’s baskets with the organic label using the term as a marketing tool. The other trend is more economic development oriented and purports that areas that have a higher concentration of organic farming, are better off economically.

According to a recent report titled “U.S. Organic Hotspots and their Benefit to Local Economies” prepared for the Organic Trade Association (OTA) by Penn State Agricultural Economist Dr. Edward Jaenicke, organic hotspots do have an impact on the economy. The report states that organic hotspots – counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity that have neighboring counties with high organic activity – boost household incomes and reduce poverty levels.

Many sources agree that organic is the fastest growing sector of the U.S. food industry. If so, more research will surely follow the OTA’s assertion that organic wellness promotes economic wellness. That opportunity, combined with other food and wellness trends, should be of great interest to cities as they plan their economic development strategies and growth models, especially in areas of higher poverty.