Local Food Counts Project

The Local Food Counts data collection process is being sponsored by the New England State Food System Planners Partnership. The Partnership consists of a group of six state-level food system development organizations and Food Solutions New England. The Partnership also includes a group of Supporting Partners who are staff at their respective State Departments of Agriculture (or equivalents). In addition, Farm to Institution New England (FINE) is a partner on the Local Food Counts Project.

Foundational research was released in June 2023 which explored the question: What would it take for 30% of the food consumed in New England to be regionally produced by 2030?  Because local food counts data do not yet exist in all six New England states (Vermont has collected their local food counts data for 2011, 2014, 2017 and 2020) researchers created a model for estimating regional food self-reliance — an estimate of the region’s production of food commodities compared to its consumption of those same commodities—and developed 2 scenarios for how the six New England states could meet a goal of supplying 30% of its food from regional sources by 2030.

It became clear from our research process that having local food counts conducted in the other five New England states is essential to tracking progress towards our 30% goal by 2030. 

We need a 2022 baseline of local food sales so that we can then mobilize the necessary resources and support that will assist us in achieving the 30% goal. 

Project Timeline

2022 Data Period

Contact Database Developed April – September 2023

Survey Instrument Launched to Collect Data September – December 2023

Data Analyzed and State Reports Released – January-March 2024

2025 Data Period

To be collected in 2026

2030 Data Period

To be collected in 2031

Local Food Counts FAQ

The New England State Food System Planners Partnership has established a goal of growing, raising, catching, and producing 30% of New England’s food from within New England by 2030. The six state’s Department of Agriculture Commissioners have endorsed this effort and are working to achieve this goal along with us.  In order to track progress towards this ambitious goal, each New England state is being asked to utilize a standard and proven methodology of data collection and analysis to account for local food purchased and sold in one calendar year within their state.

The Local Food Counts methodology standardizes how local food gets counted at the point of wholesale within each New England state. The data is collected from a variety of official sources (e.g., US Census of Agriculture) and directly from food system entities (e.g., distributors, grocers, institutions). Data is collected for major product categories (e.g., dairy, meat, produce) and by market channel (e.g., grocery/retail, restaurant, institutions, direct sales, etc.). After collecting and releasing the results of the 2022 local food count (to create a baseline), the Partnership will conduct data collection for 2025 and 2030 local food sales.

The Local Food Counts methodology was first developed in Vermont in 2011 and peer reviewed by a panel of subject matter experts. Local Food Counts data has been collected in Vermont four times over 10 years (2011, 2014, 2017 and 2020). Data from these counts reveals that local food sales have increased from 5% ($114 million) to 16.1% ($371 million) of all food sold in the state.

Who is being asked to contribute data to the Local Food Counts project?

Local Food sales data will be requested from dozens of entities in each of the five participating states, such as food distributors and food hubs, hospital food service directors, grocery retailers including food coops, restaurant associations, food manufacturing associations, schools, colleges/universities, and farms that sell direct to wholesalers (not through a distributor), along with direct-to-consumer sales data from the US Census of Agriculture.  This state level data will then be aggregated into a total local food sales figure. The data for all food sales in a given state comes from federal sources (e.g., Consumer Expenditure Survey, USDA Economic Research Service – State-level Food Expenditure Series, and the US Economic Census). The ratio of these two data points (local food sales data / all food sales data) will tell us the percentage of local food sales in a given state.

Where and when are Local Food Counts being conducted?

We are collecting data in New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut from local food purchased and sold in the 2022 calendar year. Data collection is being conducted between August – December 2023.

Data collectors in each of the five states will collect their state-specific data and Annie Harlow (who has assisted with Vermont’s local food counts project in the past) is collecting data from regional distributors and regional grocery chains with a multi-state presence.  Farm to Institution New England (FINE) will provide outreach to campus food service directors and healthcare food service directors as a partner with us on this project.

How is ‘local food’ being defined for the purposes of this project?

In order to be able to compare local food counts across each of the six New England states, and to be able to aggregate them into a regional food counts estimate, we are defining what is considered to be “local” in the same manner. Because the Vermont Legislature updated how local food is defined in Vermont (and is the only state in the region to have done so), we are adapting the Vermont definition for each of the other five states.

Click here for a complete list of the product categories and corresponding definitions being used for the Local Food Counts project.

How will the Local Food Counts data be used?

Aggregated data by food category and market channel from each state will be visually presented on each Partner’s website and on this website, similar to how Vermont displays its data here (3 graphs). By establishing the 2022 baseline for five states, along with Vermont’s 2020 local food count results, we can then aggregate all six states to estimate a regional food consumption percentage. This regional food figure will be conservative, however, as it will not reflect local food produced in one New England state and sold in another New England state. But this regional figure will give us a relative sense of how close we are to achieving our 30% goal. By conducting the local food counts in all six states again in 2026 (for 2025 data) and 2031 (for 2030 data), we will be able to track progress towards our 30% goal for 2030. This regional food counts figure can also be used to encourage greater regional food sourcing through various market channels in the region.

How will the Local Food Counts Team ensure the data is kept secure?

All information collected shall be kept confidential and will be analyzed and aggregated by the data analysis team. The Local Food Counts project data collection process is being sponsored by the New England Food System Planners Partnership, which includes: Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, NH Food Alliance, Connecticut Food System Alliance, Rhode Island Food Policy Council, Maine Food Strategy, and VT Farm to Plate in collaboration with Food Solutions New England. Non-Disclosure Agreements will be available for businesses interested in a formal commitment of confidentiality.

This project is modeled on Vermont as is the only state to have passed an Act on the definition of ‘local’ (Act 129: Local Definition) & to have previously conducted local food counts (2011, 2014, 2017, 2020).

2023 New England Local Foods Count Survey

The NEFNE project has set a goal of achieving 30% regional food resiliency by 2030. This Local Food Count is necessary to establish how much of the food grown, raised, harvested or produced in New England currently stays in this same region.

As such, we are asking all New England organizations to fill out this survey. Before beginning the survey, you may find it helpful to retrieve your organization’s food and beverage purchases or sales records for calendar year 2022.

Local Food Counts Research Team, Staff and Partners

The Research Team

The Partnership put out a state-specific search for food systems researchers in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut, respectively, who were interested in being part of a team that would gather state-specific data on what types of local foods we are eating in New England. Ultimately, 11 researchers were engaged in this project, each tasked with obtaining contacts across the food system in their assigned state.

Holly Fowler, MBA – Northbound Ventures Consulting, LLC

Holly Fowler is co-founder and CEO of Northbound Ventures Consulting, LLC, a small, woman-owned firm based in Montpelier, Vermont and centered around food systems, outdoor recreation, population health, and community economic revitalization. She routinely supports organizations and institutions nationwide to identify and implement strategies that prioritize equitable development. Prior to starting Northbound, Holly served as the Senior Director of Sustainability & Corporate Social Responsibility for Sodexo North America, the world’s second largest provider of institutional food service. There she guided progressive operational and sourcing practices across all markets – corporate, academic, healthcare, leisure, and government. Holly holds a Professional Certificate in Sustainable Food Systems Leadership from the University of Vermont, a Masters in Business Administration from Babson College, and a BA from Bowdoin College. [Massachusetts Lead Researcher]

Katelyn Porter, BS – NH Food Alliance

Katelyn Porter is the NH Food Hub Network Project Manager at the NH Food Alliance, a program of the Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire. She works with food hubs around the state and region to help identify and bolster operational efficiencies, collaborative market opportunities and viable distribution networks among them. From co-owning and operating a small farm business and co-founding a successful food hub business to taco trucks, food coops, and farms, Katelyn brings over a decade of experience and perspective from working throughout the food supply chain; energized by a passion for systems change. Katelyn has a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Conservation and Sustainability, with a focus in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems from UNH.  [New Hampshire Lead Researcher]

Cristina Connolly, PhD – University of Connecticut

Cristina Connolly is an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Connecticut. She received her PhD in Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics from the Ohio State University. Her research focuses on local and regional food systems and food economics, including consumer tradeoffs, competitive activities, and farm to institution procurement. She also holds a partial Extension appointment, applying economic theory to stakeholder-identified research questions, including agricultural direct marketing and farm-to-institution channels [Connecticut Lead Researcher]

Alyssa McDonnell, PhD – University of Connecticut

PhD in Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Connecticut [Connecticut Research Assistant]

Karina Cangas – University of Connecticut

BS in Applied and Resource Economics, University of Connecticut [Connecticut Research Assistant]

Nicholas Hamel-Porter – University of Connecticut

BA in Economics, University of Connecticut [Connecticut Research Assistant]

Chelsea Marshall, PhD – Consultant

Chelsea Marshall is an independent consultant in Maine, specializing in stakeholder engagement, facilitation and research. Her work focuses on putting human rights into practice at the local level and involving people who are most affected by injustice in the food system in co-designing solutions to systemic challenges. She served on the management committee for Dig-in Bruntsfield, a community-owned greengrocer in Edinburgh, and was a founding board member of Scotland The Bread, a collaborative project to grow better grain and bake better bread. Chelsea has a PhD in Law and Masters in Human Rights Law from Queen’s University Belfast, and a BA in Government from Smith College. [Maine Lead Researcher]

Michelle Klieger, MA, MBA – Helianth Partners

Michelle Klieger is the Co-Founder of Helianth Partners, a food and agricultural consulting firm. She helps clients find, access, and leverage funding and financing to support their vision of a more economically and environmentally sustainable system. Her work includes researching and understanding the underlying constraints, developing alternatives, and evaluating the economic impact of those changes. Recent agricultural accounting and financing work includes analyzing the cost drivers of Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy Program, creating a regenerative agricultural sourcing strategy for Simple Mills, researching distribution and retail outlets for NEFNE, and managing operations for a specialty food distributor. She is a professional speaker and presented on The Power of the Purchase Order: how rural grocery purchase orders support local producers at the Rural Grocery Summit, and How Small Growers Can Navigate Supply Chain Disruptions and Volatile Economic Challenges, at Cultivate. Michelle’s passion for supporting small and medium sized producers and agribusinesses led to the creation of her podcast, The Grower & The Economist, which provides listeners with relevant and practical economic and business advice. She is the author of The Demise of Free Trade, and a professor of Economics at Bentley University. She holds a Masters in Agriculture Economics from Purdue University and an MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. [Rhode Island Lead Researcher]

Brianna Bowman, MA – Consultant

Bri is the Agricultural Value Chain Project Director at Cumberland County Food Security Council. Bri has worked with Maine’s forest economy directing the FOR/Maine initiative at MDF and built networks of collaboration across Maine’s food system organizations, cooperative businesses, and climate organizations as Project Manager of the Maine Network of Community Food Councils, Cooperative Maine Business Alliance, and Maine Climate Table. Bri has also worked to support national networks of beginning farmer training organizations at the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. They earned their MA in International Development and Sustainable Agriculture from the University of Denver, and their BA in Peace Studies from Goucher College. Bri is an artist, herbalist and devotee of the woods and waters. [Maine Lead Researcher]

Lead Research Analysts

Annie Harlow – Annie Harlow Consulting

Annie Harlow is an independent retail and operations consultant who helps farms and food businesses grow to meet the complexities of food operations, marketing, and distribution variables to meet market demands. She specializes in designing workshops, seminars, and forums to build relationships among producers, buyers, and distributors for increasing local and regional sales. She has been the lead researcher on several local and sustainable food tracking projects since 2011. Annie oversees  The Grocer Project: Retail Collection, through VSJF’s Farm to Plate and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets. She is tasked with expanding sales for farmers, independent grocery, and coop stores with various types of training: on-farm and in-store support, retail and wholesale sales data collection, and is content creator for a monthly e-newsletter Small Bites. She was instrumental to the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan 2021-2030 Issue Briefs. [Lead Regional Research Analyst]

Scott Richardson, PhD, MBA – Northbound Ventures Consulting, LLC

Scott Richardson is co-founder and Partner of Northbound Ventures Consulting, LLC. He brings a broad range of public health, operations, finance, and strategy experience to his work serving the public, private, and philanthropic sectors. Previously, Scott was the Director of Research and Strategic Initiatives for Project Bread, Massachusetts’ statewide anti-hunger organization, where his responsibilities included identifying, implementing, and measuring the impact and feasibility of new projects to improve access to healthy food for underserved populations. Scott’s research on improving public school nutrition has been documented in several academic journals. Scott holds a PhD in Population Health Sciences with a focus on nutrition from the  Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, an MBA from the FW Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College, a BA from Rutgers College, and a Professional Certificate in Sustainable Food Systems Leadership from the University of Vermont. [Lead Data Analyst]

Project Leads

Leah Rovner – New England Feeding New England

Leah Rovner is the Project Director for New England Feeding New England (NEFNE). On behalf of the New England State Food System Planners Partnership, she supports collaborative efforts across the six states to expand and fortify the region’s food supply and distribution systems, including the Local Food Counts project plan. Leah worked at America’s Test Kitchen for 9 years running test kitchen operations for all media-related production. She spent several years in specialty retail sales at Whole Foods Market, transitioning into grant writing and strategic consulting for several local food businesses as well as project management for Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative which oversees the USDA Farm to School program in Maine prior to joining NEFNE in early 2023.

Ellen Kahler – Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund

Ellen Kahler is the Executive Director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF) which manages Vermont statewide food system development efforts known as Vermont Farm to Plate. VSJF/VT Farm to Plate is part of the New England State Food System Planners Partnership and provided grants management and administrative support to the New England Feeding New England project. Ellen was actively involved in working with all the researchers associated with this project and in ensuring the project deliverables were achieved. After Sarah Axe left her role at the end of March, 2022, Ellen served as the primary staff working with the researchers to complete the project and publish the results. Ellen helped shape and publish the 2011-2020 Farm to Plate Strategic Plan and the 2021-2030 Vermont Agriculture & Food System Strategic Plan, as well as support the development and work of the statewide Farm to Plate Network. Ellen has served on the Working Lands Enterprise Fund since its inception in 2012, which annually distributes grants to food system businesses and service provider organizations, and was appointed by Governor Phil Scott to serve on the Future of Agriculture Commission in 2021.

Project Partners

Hannah Leighton, MS – Farm to Institution New England

Hannah Leighton is the Director of Research and Evaluation at Farm to Institution New England (FINE), a six-state cross-sector regional network that is transforming the food system by mobilizing the power of New England institutions. In this role, Hannah oversees FINE’s metrics project, manages internal and collaborative research efforts, and leads FINE’s efforts to measure the impact of farm to institution activity across the region. Prior to her work at FINE, Hannah spent several years writing about food, working in hospitality, and farming on vegetable and small-scale livestock farms across the country. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from the New School University and a Master’s degree in Sustainability Science with a concentration in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Peter Allison, MA – Farm to Institution New England

Peter Allison is the Executive Director of Farm to Institution New England (FINE). He has worked with FINE since 2011, joining the initial organizing partners to promote a robust farm to institution network in New England. He brings over 30 years of project and program leadership in a wide array of non-profit, government and business settings. He got his start in food systems work by working as a farm to school coordinator at his son’s school in Hartland, Vermont in 2007. He went on to found the Upper Valley Farm to School Network in 2008, to support existing and emerging farm to school programs in the Upper Valley Region of Vermont and New Hampshire. Peter sits on the Network Leadership team of Food Solutions New England, advisory committees of various state-level farm to school programs, and the Valley Food and Farm program of Vital Communities. Prior experience includes serving as Branch Chief for Commercial Waste Reduction for the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection, Senior Consultant for Eco-Logical Solutions, Inc., an innovative environmental consulting firm serving the hospitality industry, and Political Director for the League of Conservation Voters in New Jersey. During non-office time he enjoys an array of outdoor activities including pedaling his bike, skiing the backcountry, and muddling in the garden. Peter has a BA in Philosophy from Drew University and an MA in Urban and Environmental Policy from Tufts University.