UMN study maps urban food capabilities

The findings will inform Minneapolis food policy initiatives and production.

Megan Palmer

A study published this month by University of Minnesota researchers will be used to initiate an expansion of Minneapolis’ use of locally grown food.

The study analyzed the local household demand for food products in four key areas, which included fruits, vegetables, dairy and eggs, by mapping the household food consumption and food production capabilities of metropolitan areas in the United States. It then compared the local demand to local production patterns to see how self-sufficient cities could be in these categories. The study will be utilized by Homegrown Minneapolis, a citywide initiative that focuses on expanding the city’s connection with locally grown food. 

The study found through its assessment of the Twin Cities area, which measured food grown in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington, that the area has the potential to be 76 percent self-sufficient in dairy production, 58 percent in vegetables, two percent in fruit and more than 100 percent in eggs, exceeding local demands. 

Co-author and Humphrey School of Public Affairs professor Anu Ramaswami said the purpose of the study is to assess what needs cities could meet for their own populations. 

“Being self-sufficient isn’t better or worse, it’s just a reflection of the type of climate [cities] have, what [they] have going on around [them],” Ramaswami said.

The results found that out of the 377 metro areas studied, about five percent of areas that are not currently self-sufficient have the potential to be self-sufficient in eggs and fruits, 18 percent of these areas could be self-sufficient in dairy and 23 percent could be self-sufficient in vegetable production.  

The study, conducted through the Sustainable Healthy Cities Network in the Humphrey School, is the first to study local urban food production capabilities. 

“There’s surprisingly little research on local foods, and our supply chain is a mystery,” said Peter Nixon, a co-author of the study and a doctoral student in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering.  

In certain metro areas, local production is sufficient to meet the needs of the population, but many food deserts — or areas that lack access to nutritional food — still persist.

Ramaswami said one goal of the study is to show policymakers that they may have the means to employ urban agriculture, but may not be addressing it in a way that helps the city as a whole.

“There are still disadvantaged communities who don’t have access to nutritious food,” Ramaswami said.

Tamara Downs Schwei, Local Food Policy coordinator for Homegrown Minneapolis, said the program will use the data on Minneapolis to “generate more concrete and quantifiable goals … [and] connect our food systems with our climate action planning.” 

Homegrown Minneapolis is incorporating the data from the study into its work addressing food disparities within the city. “The city is looking at current and historical inequities … and is incorporating that lens actively into our work,” said Downs Schwei.

Now that the study is complete, researchers are hoping that policymakers will use it to inform future decisions about local food production. 

“If we want urban agriculture, we need to be really clear about why we want it,” Ramaswami said.