Career Snapshots: Local Food Systems
A career path in local food systems can take many different forms, including farming and agriculture, public health, culinary, and education. Those who work in local food systems have a variety of interests, such as business, food, and health, along with a desire to create a strong, sustainable, and fair food system. Some common careers in this field include managing farmers markets, community gardens, or other food production businesses. Others include working in government developing policies related to food and health or as an economist. This career path also includes consultants for restaurants, businesses, and farms along with attorneys who practice food law.
Food System Management
Managing various components of the local food system may include farmers markets, food hubs, community gardens, or specialty grocery stores. These management positions require professionals with a passion for local food systems, sustainable agriculture, entrepreneurship, and community development. You will develop skills in economics and management to effectively analyze and operate food businesses, or apply science and engineering to food system innovations and information systems. The job market for this career path includes government agencies, nonprofit organizations, retail, and other industry employers. Here are some examples:
As a farmers market manager, you will represent the market both internally to vendors (such as farmers) and externally to shoppers and other market sponsors. You must be responsible for the market’s daily operation and oversee the market’s long-term success. The duties of farmers market managers are numerous and unique to each individual market. Some duties may include recruiting new producers to expand the variety at a market; collecting rental fees from vendors; ensuring all vendors have proper licenses, permits, and insurance; and advertising your market. Farmers market managers must be able to update the Board of Directors on the market’s conditions, sales and income, and strategize future growth.
As a food hub operations manager, you will help increase farmer participation and product distribution, and support food entrepreneurs in operating shared-use commercial kitchens. You will ensure compliance with all food safety regulations and manage food safety programs for your organization. Food hub operations managers develop and maintain all aspects of operation, such as processing produce to order for wholesale customers and managing distribution of raw produce. A food hub operations manager will need basic business knowledge to develop long-term plans that are sustainable and cost effective.
As a food systems coordinator, you will help create a supportive environment for local food and the economy in your community. Food system coordinators usually work for local governments or nonprofit agencies and may focus on a variety of food systems development projects, such as community food assessments, developing rural agritourism opportunities, or working within health and nutrition education. Food systems coordinators collaborate with government agencies and other local partners to strategize how a community grows, distributes, and accesses food. It is important for a food systems coordinator to understand current issues related to federal, state, and local food system policies with the community.
Education and Training
Pursuing a career in food system management may begin with entry-level assistant or associate positions at a farmers market, farm store, specialty grocery, or nonprofit organization to gain experience and training. Higher-level management positions may require a certificate or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a related program like food systems or food studies. Check out Louisiana State University’s College of Agriculture for related undergraduate degree programs such as agricultural business with a minor in food industry management.
Food Law and Policy
Food system policy includes laws and regulations by government (federal, state, local) that affect food production and consumption. Local food polices may regulate zoning, land use, health codes, or food processing and transport. These policies impact community food systems and the development of a healthy and equitable infrastructure.
Attorneys who practice food law assist the operations of the food industry by advising clients on regulatory compliance, property, and trade. Other issues that can help improve the food system at the legal and policy levels include obesity, type 2 diabetes, and addressing the gap in food access between those who can and cannot afford fresh food.
Attorneys that focus on food law have many job choices, from traditional legal jobs to research, advocacy, or policy-making positions within the food system. Many work for food producers and government agencies, however any business involved in food production must comply with food laws. They may also work as lobbyists in order to present issues to legislators on behalf of their clients. Food producers, distributors and retailers rely on attorneys to help them comply with laws that apply to their work as they conduct business.
Nonprofit organizations that focus on food policy change, advocate for farmers’ rights, or fund hunger relief programs may hire law firms that specialize in the business of food and agriculture. Attorneys who specialize in food law also work for the federal government. They may enforce regulations and work with inspectors. Federal food lawyers may take enforcement actions when they believe food producers violate federal laws. State governments also employ food lawyers to work on enforcement actions regarding state laws.
Education and Training
A great place to gain experience and insight into a food policy career is to get involved in a local food policy council to connect with food service operators, farmers, food business entrepreneurs, public health professionals, food justice advocates, and many more. There are job opportunities in food policy in the federal government such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Environmental Protection Agency. As well as the state government (such as Louisiana Departments of Agriculture) and non-governmental organizations and research institutes (such as American Farm Bureau Federation, American Farmland Trust, Food Research and Action Center, National Farm to School Network, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). Law firms, universities, and consulting firms are also employers of attorneys who practice food law.
Most entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree in a field related to food policy and economics, while higher-level positions benefit from a PhD or law degree for advanced policy work or to practice food law. Learn more about the undergraduate degree programs offered by Louisiana State University’s College of Business. Learn more about law degrees offered at Louisiana State University’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center.