Research, Data, and Analysis Focused on Central Texas
Produced by the Capital Area Council of Governments
Author: Carol Fraser
While the fertile soils of the Central Texas region have long been an attraction for human settlement and agriculture, during the past few decades, rapid population growth and urbanization have been putting development pressure on available prime farmland. This process has meant significant changes in rural and suburban communities, as land use changes have reshaped the character of these communities.
Recognizing this trend, and seeking to revitalize the local agricultural economy, several groups in the region have been working towards preserving and rehabilitating local farmland. One idea that local organizations and governments are currently discussing is the potential for agricultural production on publicly owned land, and good locations for local food distribution centers and incubators.
The question is, how much publicly owned land is there in the region right now, and is it any good for farming or locating a food hub? CAPCOG decided to investigate at a regional scale.
Over the past 10 years, population in the Capital Area has grown by roughly 50,000 people per year. Noting how newcomers are changing Central Texas is an evergreen discussion topic, but one thing that newcomers and long-time residents have in common is that both buy food locally. And rapid population growth has been good for the Capital Area food industry.
Between 2011 and 2016, total earnings in food retail (primarily grocery stores and restaurants) in the Capital Area grew by nearly 51 percent. Earnings per worker grew by almost 15 percent. Estimated total sales for the food retail sector in the Capital Area in 2015 was just shy of $7.6 billion.[i] Put succinctly, there’s quite a lot of money being spent on food in the Capital Area.
But for all of the attention that goes to locally-sourced produce at grocery stores, farmers markets, and farm-to-table restaurants, it’s worth asking, “Just how much of what we eat actually comes from local sources?” And for those approaching this question from an economic development angle, “How many of those dollars being spent on food are staying in the local economy, as opposed to going to food producers elsewhere?”
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Data Points is a blog dedicated to policy and planning issues in the Capital Area of Central Texas. It is produced by staff at the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG).