Local Food Calculator: FAQs and Methodology

Local Food Calculator: FAQs

What is defined as “local” in this calculator?

In the context of this calculator, local means that economic activity took place in Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden Counties, or in the state of Massachusetts, depending on where the user indicates their location.

How do we calculate what share of your food purchases are local?

In order to calculate the ‘local’ share of food, we ask the you, the user, to estimate how much you spend on direct farm purchases, such as CSAs, as well as on local food bought at grocery stores. By ‘local food at the grocery store’, we mean food that you bought that is labeled or clearly known to be grown and/or produced in the local area. Taken together, these figures provide the amount of “intentionally” local food purchased, and we divide them by total grocery spending to find the intentional local food share. Because not all local food is labelled as such, we then add an additional 10% of the remaining food expenditures (total groceries minus intentionally local food) to get the total value of local food you purchase. Read on for our rationale for using 10%.

Doesn’t buying ‘non-local’ food at a local store also contribute to the local economy?

Yes, there are several ways that purchasing food contributes to our local economy – even if it is not EXPLICITLY local. First, we know that there is some local content contained in many foods, even processed foods. For example, Frito Lay purchases potatoes grown in Hadley to make its Lay’s Potato Chips. The bag of potato chips a shopper buys at the grocery store could indeed contain a lot of local ingredients, but she would not necessarily know it. According to IMPLAN, an economic modeling program, 15.8% of the total value of household food purchases in our region result in income for local farmers, food producers, and value-added food businesses. Diving deeper into the data, we believe this figure to be high. We decided to err on the conservative side and assume that 10% of total household food purchases are local. Second, purchasing food from a local store means you are contributing to the local economy by supporting the business owners, workers, and support services used by the store or farm. This calculator was not intended to demonstrate the impact of choosing one type of store over another (other calculators do that, such as this one: http://www.independentwestand.org/spend_local/).

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Why do we ask about monthly grocery purchases and yearly CSA expenditures?

We thought that most people using the calculator could more readily estimate monthly spending than annual spending. We chose monthly to help smooth out week-to-week variation.  The calculator multiplies the monthly figures provided by 12 to produce an annual estimate. However, for the CSA question, we thought many people could more readily provide their annual membership fee.

What if I don’t know how much I spend on food each month?

It’s fine to give a ballpark estimate—you are probably closer than you think!  Even government data on consumer expenditures comes from surveys in which people are asked to estimate their purchases.  For your information, consumer data suggests that the average U.S. household has 2.58 people and spent about $494 per month on food and nonalcoholic beverages outside of restaurants in 2011. Using this data point a 2 person household spends on average $383/month and a 4 person household spends on average $766/month. We rounded these figures and included them in the “tip” button. Just scroll over the “tip” buttons to see this and more tips to help fill out the calculator.

What if I grow my own food?

If you grow your own food, you are probably familiar with the many economic and quality-of-life benefits it contributes to your household and the community. This calculator is limited in that it only accounts for income and value added through food exchanged in the market economy and does not account for the many benefits of home food production.

How do we come up with the job and income estimates in Part 2 of the calculator?

In order to demonstrate the impact of local purchases on jobs and income, we ask the user to input amounts of money that could be shifted from several categories of processed and long-distance food to various types of local food.

We used the software and data product IMPLAN to estimate job creation and income generated for specific products. The job and income multipliers in IMPLAN are known to be credible and are intuitively sensible. For example, buying fruits and vegetables creates more jobs than buying eggs because growing vegetables is more labor intensive than egg production.

For each product type, we used IMPLAN to calculate multipliers for jobs and additional income generated (technically, total value added). Each of the multipliers represents how many jobs or how much income would be generated if each household in the three counties spent $1 more on the specific product. According to the 2013 IMPLAN model, there are 279,312 households in Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden Counties and 2,632,757 households in the whole Commonwealth.

What if I want to buy local products from a category that doesn’t appear on your list?

These categories were chosen because they correspond to categories that exist in the IMPLAN economic modeling software. Unfortunately, some categories (like grains and veggie-based proteins) do not appear here. You can get a reasonable estimate by adding to whichever category seems closest to what is missing. And you can use CISA’s on-line guide to help find local grains and other products.

Won’t local jobs and income associated with the distribution and retail of “non-local” foods be lost if local food purchases are increased?

We do our best to account for these losses in the model. We ask you to estimate decreases in consumption of ‘non-local’ food at the same time we ask you to commit to purchasing more local food, knowing that this type of substitution is more likely than buying more food locally and not adjusting other purchases. This gives a less rosy picture of the jobs and income added from buying more local food, but we feel it is more honest. Like any economic transition, the shift to buying more local food is likely to happen gradually, avoiding sudden income losses or mass layoffs.

The calculator told me that 20% of my food purchases benefit the local economy.  But don’t all my purchases benefit the local economy in some way, since I’m supporting jobs in retail and distribution with these purchases?

The 20% in this example refers to the share of the money you spend on food purchases that stays in the local economy.  As described above, this includes everything you spend on direct purchases of local food and 10% of food purchases that are not explicitly local, to account for the share of the value of these purchases that stays in the region.

What about the jobs and income lost in other parts of the country and world if we all shift toward more local food purchases?

The movement toward local food is not just about keeping value in the local economy; it’s about keeping value in the hands of people who actually work to produce it.  The “non-local” food categories used here are mostly produced by large corporations, and a large share of the value spent on this food typically goes to these companies.

How can I put the calculator on my own website?

We are so glad you asked!  Click here to request the code to embed this calculator directly into your own website.

View Methodology


Please contact CISA for permission to reproduce this calculator. If you’d like more information on how we developed the calculators please contact Kelly Coleman.

Special thanks to Anita Dancs, Department of Economics, Western New England University and Helen Scharber, School of Critical Social Inquiry, Hampshire College, who developed the calculator tool for CISA.

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