Cal Poly Faculty Receives $400,000 Grant to Study Economy of Local Food

HamiltonCal Poly economics Professor Stephen Hamilton and a team of researchers recently received a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the economics of local food systems.

The grant is part of the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which studies food safety, animal health, natural resources and agriculture economics to help consumers make informed decisions.

Hamilton and Arizona State University Professor Tim Richards will lead the team as it examines how stakeholders in local food supply chains — including growers, distributors and retailers — can design the local food supply network to increase value for farmers, local food economies, retailers, and consumers. The study will look at the underlying factors of successful food retailing to determine how shopping local can become an essential part of the conventional food system. The research comes as consumer studies suggest that the traditional means of shopping local, such as going to farmers markets or roadside stands, has reached a plateau.

Hamilton and his co-authors will use Nielsen data to examine trends from regional growers and retailers across the nation, especially retailers who have experienced fluctuating responses to local foods. The researchers will also conduct lab-based economic experiments to learn more about consumer behaviors shopping for local products in a supermarket setting.

The research team includes Professor Elliot Rabinovich from Arizona State University and Professor Miguel Gomez from Cornell. Hamilton plans to hire students in Cal Poly’s Master of Science in economics program to assist with the study. Funding for the two-year research program runs through 2017.

Hamilton, chair of the Economics Area in the Orfalea College of Business, has taught at Cal Poly since 2004. He has secured more than $1.5 million in federal grants for his research since 2001. Throughout the last decade, Hamilton has consulted with numerous companies on land and water-use issues and has published more than 40 peer-reviewed articles in leading journals. He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.