If you want healthier, fresher foods, consider buying more often from Utah farmers and food processors and in some cases you'll also save money.
Purchasing local raw and processed products such as cheeses, chocolates and cakes also generates less pollution by eliminating the need to ship in food from hundreds or thousands of miles away to say nothing of the way it helps Utah's economy, said State Agriculture Commissioner Leonard Blackham.
On Friday, his agency released a Utah State University study that shows Utah farmers, support industries and food manufacturers contribute more than $17.5 billion annually to the state's economy.
Taking a broader view of agriculture's impact than previous studies, the USU data show that all related sectors make up about 14 percent of the state's economy, providing jobs for more than 78,200 people and generating $2.7 billion in compensation, said one of the authors, Paul Jakus of USU's Department of Applied Economics.
Even when considering more traditional studies that focus solely on farm production pegging agriculture's contribution to the economy at 2 percent or so agriculture is still is critical to Utah's well-being, said Zions Bank economic adviser Randy Shumway, who was not involved in the study.
"Agriculture diversifies the use of our land. For instance, hay, corn and barley can be grown on dry land, making these areas quite productive. And our livestock, from dairy to cattle to sheep to poultry, is robust. Agriculture leverages the vast natural resources in rural Utah."
But when including the impact made by food manufacturers such as Creminelli Fine Meats in Salt Lake City, the USU study highlights many businesses that are dependent on farming and livestock operations, and vice versa.
Cristiano Creminelli, who hails from a family that's been making salami for five centuries, chose Utah to open an American business because the state's climate was ideal for making the ground, fermented sausage. In 2007, Creminelli started Utah's first salumificio, or meat shop, inside Tony Caputo's Market and Deli in Salt Lake City. Today, his business operates in a 40,000 square foot building near Salt Lake City International Airport at 310 Wright Brothers Drive, making salami, proscuitto ham and cooked products such as mortadella.
Creminelli said another factor in deciding to come to Utah was the quality of its hogs and the care given them by farmers, who "even give their pigs names."
In Utah, food processing in rural and urban counties accounts for nearly 15 percent of all manufacturing jobs, with workers earning more than $18 per hour, according to the USU study. This includes nearly 4,000 workers in food manufacturing plants in Salt Lake City, 3,500 workers in Logan, up to 2,500 workers in the Provo-Orem area, 3,700 in Ogden-Clearfield and up to 250 in St. George, with a combined payroll of $575,000 annually.
Agriculture Commissioner Blackham stressed that Utah consumers can have a direct influence on the state's economy by purchasing locally grown or processed foods identified by the Utah's Own label. Buying at farmers markets and other local outlets may generate savings on some items, such as produce and other goods, while also providing a broad selection of organic foods.
Agriculture's impact on Utah's economy, a broad view
A new study says that when taking into account related industries, agriculture accounts for 14 percent of the state's economy:
Jobs • Directly employs 30,100 workers and indirectly up to 78,200, generating $2.7 billion in compensation
Taxes • Generates $298 million in federal taxes (excluding Social Security) and $285 million in state and local taxes
Food processing • Accounts for 15 percent of all manufacturing jobs, with workers averaging more than $18 per hour
Source: Utah State University and the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food
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Tours of Creminelli Fine Meats
When • Fridays
Where • Near Salt Lake City International Airport, at 310 Wright Brothers Drive
Tickets • Free but call for reservations at 801-428-1820