We are so excited about the launch of the NVA Toolsite and to get these tools into the hands of food system professionals, farmers, entrepreneurs, store owners and all of the hard working planners out there! Over the next six weeks, this NVA Toolsite Spotlight microblog series will dig deeper into the functionality and uses for each tool to illustrate what they can do for you (and what they can’t), and how easy they are to use. We hope they provide helpful shortcuts for many of you working to rebuild local food systems in your communities. Our first installment today spotlights the Local Food MarketSizerⓇ.

Do you want to assess local food supply and demand in your region but don’t know where to start? Perhaps you’ve come across an empty warehouse in your hometown and wonder if it could be turned into a food hub but not sure what the market is like in your region? Despite its growing significance, local food sales and production data are not easy to find. So we developed a means to estimate them. The Local Food MarketSizer® estimates unmet demand for locally produced food in a chosen geographic area. This free tool uses data from public and private sources to calculate unmet demand for local food at the state and county level. With a few clicks you can estimate the potential of the market in your area for local meat, dairy, poultry & eggs and fruits & vegetables.

Some of you have been using the Local Food MarketSizer® for a long time now (it was first introduced in 2012!) and may be wondering “So what’s new?” A lot actually! Version 1.0 was based on state-level production data that was adjusted to the county and MSA level based on population. Version 2.0 provides far more accurate estimates of local food production because it pulls in county-level farm gate sales from a USDA database.

That sounds great but what does it actually look like in practice? Here, we’ll show you!

On the Local Food MarketSizer® page, I am able to select the food markets I’m interested in analyzing and the state and/or county of my choice.

Local Food MarketSizer demo 1

In my scenario, I am interested in starting a food hub Montana that aggregates, washes, and packs local fruits and vegetables — so I have selected “Fruits & Veggies” and “Montana.” I’m also in a rural part of the state, a small town inside of Dawson County, and since I am unsure I’ll be able to find what I need in my area, I’m using the MarketSizer® to do a quick calculation on how realistic my food hub dreams are!

Local Food MarketSizer demo 2

Oh no! My results returned a local quotient of 0% and Local Food Supply returned a result of 0 — what does this mean? Are my dreams over? Not necessarily. The Local Quotient refers to the percentage of sales that is produced within the selected area, meaning in this case that local demand for fruits and vegetables cannot be met by what’s produced inside Dawson County. The Local Food Supply result of zero means either that fruits and vegetables are not produced at all in Dawson County –OR– that the USDA has withheld this information because there are so few farmers producing fruits and vegetables in Dawson County that any data published would disclose too much information about an individual farm. Because I know my county pretty well, I’m pretty sure it’s the former. Bummer! But wait, I have farmer friends across the state so I might be able to find suppliers if I widen the search area. Let’s look at supply state-wide to see if I’m better off:

Local Food MarketSizer demo 3

Good news! It looks like there may be ample local fruit and vegetable supply statewide to meet my needs. It also appears that demand for local food outstrips the supply, with an unmet market for local food across Montana of $81 million in wholesale dollars.

This could mean many things, but two that are important for me to consider as I establish my business are 1) because supply is more limited than demand, will there be strong competition from other, more established buyers looking for fruits and vegetables grown in Montana that would either make it difficult for me to find suppliers or drive prices too high, and 2) sourcing fruits and vegetables from farms across the state could make transportation costs too steep for my food hub to profitably sell them.

So I could use the MarketSizer® again to see if I can find fruit and vegetable production in a closer set of counties, or I could experiment with the type of product I want my food hub to aggregate, to see if I could still stay within Dawson County for my sourcing. Maybe meat…

Local Food MarketSizer demo 4

Local Food MarketSizer demo 5


…and tah-dah! The Local Quotient is 1551%! But…the supply far outstrips the demand (this IS beef country after all). The wheels are turning and perhaps I could aggregate local meats but then ship them outside the county…or I could try…and then I could select…and and…

Anyway, you see how the Local Food MarketSizer® can be used over and over again to generate a very high level picture of the market for local food to help in the decision making process. It’s just a starting place! But next week, we’re going to get into the nitty gritty of what that potential food hub business model could actually look like in our next Toolsite Spotlight microblog on the Local Produce HubSizer®! Stay tuned!

 Whatcom County Food System Plan

In 2021, the Whatcom County Food System Committee conducted a community food assessment that pointed to key opportunities to build a more robust and resilient regional food system. New Venture Advisors partnered with Whatcom County staff and the Food System Committee to draft a Whatcom County Food System Plan that builds upon these findings. This Plan focuses on five key goals for building a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient food system, and was informed by an inclusive community engagement process. The Food System Plan will provide the county with a policy roadmap that will strengthen the local food system for years to come. (2023)

 Whatcom Local Food Campus

The Whatcom Community Foundation invests in activities and organizations that improve the ability of people to help themselves, increase connections among people, and take cooperative approaches to community issues. WCF is exploring the development of a local food campus on a waterfront property that would become a multi-tenant site, anchored by a collaborative production kitchen benefitting food access, school system, and community organizations. The goal is strengthening Whatcom County’s local food system by promoting health equity, forging tangible strategic connections between food production organizations, and helping farmers connect with institutional markets. The facility will also feature an incubation kitchen, demonstration kitchen, event and classroom space, collaborative office and conference facilities, and housing.  New Venture Advisors developed the business case for this ambitious project and continues to support its development through engagement and operational development. (2023)