Vegetable Consumption, Dietary Guidelines and Agricultural Production in New York State—Implications for Local Food Economies
Peters, Christian; Bills, Nelson L.; Wilkins, Jennifer; Smith, R. David
ocal food economies where local producers respond to regional consumers’ needs are gaining attention as a means for boosting agriculture and food production in New York State. Concurrent with this interest in local agriculture is a national concern over the health effects of American food consumption patterns and the capacity of agriculture to support nutritious diets. This study merges these areas of inquiry in the context of a nutritionally and economically important agricultural sector, namely New York State vegetable production. Three questions are examined in this research. 1) How does New York State vegetable production compare with the vegetable consumption by New Yorkers? 2) How do production and consumption of vegetables compare with the recommendations in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Guide Pyramid? 3) What implications do these comparisons have for New York State agriculture? These questions were addressed using existing national and state data to estimate vegetable production and vegetable consumption in New York State. Then, in-state agricultural production and food consumption were compared with the Food Pyramid recommendations. Annual per capita consumption estimates for the Northeast suggest that New Yorkers consume approximately 160 pounds of vegetables per person per year. Based on population estimates, this level of per capita consumption indicates that New Yorkers consumed 2.9 billion pounds of vegetables in calendar year 1999. In contrast, New York State agriculture harvested an average of 3.3 billion pounds of vegetables annually during 1994-1998. After adjusting for post-harvest losses and inedible portions, the consumable equivalent of this farmgate production is 1.6 billion pounds. Based on a crop by crop comparison, New York produces a handful of vegetable crops (e.g., beets, cabbage, onions, pumpkins, snap beans, and sweet corn) in quantities that exceed the estimated in-state demand. As a result, New York produces enough vegetables to provide 38 percent of the total vegetable consumption plus 500 million pounds of “surplus” of the aforementioned crops. Comparisons with the Food Guide Pyramid demonstrate that both vegetable consumption and production in New York State mirror national trends, featuring lesser amounts of nutritionally important vegetable groups. Consumption of the “dark green leafy & deep yellow vegetables” and the “dry legumes” are only 41 percent and 19 percent, respectively, of the recommended amounts. Though New York State harvests enough dry edible beans to match the current level of consumption, it is well below the recommended amount. Furthermore, New York is a minor producer of the dark green leafy and deep yellow vegetables, producing only 12 percent of the recommended number of servings. This research could have favorable implications for New York State vegetable growers and consumers. Agricultural census data suggests that New York’s vegetable sector has historically been robust. It has maintained a consistent quantity of land in vegetable production for the last 50 years, despite shifts in crops, and has proven to be adaptable. Though New York State is among the nation’s top six vegetable producing states, this research suggests that the local market is still large relative to state output. Though more geographically specific information would be helpful for growers to put this information into practice, it is clear that much potential exists for some growers to target local and regional markets and nutritionally conscious consumers.
Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University