Putting Food “On the Map”:

Exploring How GIS Applications Can Benefit Local Food
Systems in Mid-Missouri

Photo of Earth from space

Maryann Kohl and Nsalambi Nkongolo
Center of Excellence for Geospatial Information Sciences,
Department of Agriculture, Biology, Chemistry and Physics,
Lincoln University, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0029


We have developed map models to take to various individuals and organizations to ask for input on how this mapping project might be helpful to them. The next phase would include customizing those models to meet individual needs and developing a website that would include interactive map server software such as ArcIMS. This would allow public access to all the data and models that we develop.


The family farm has been the foundation of Missouri agriculture since the first plowshare broke the sod of our prairies. Missouri is the number two state in the nation in number of small farms, most of them family-owned. In recent years, the small family farm tradition has been severely challenged by low commodity prices, high input costs, a trend towards large corporate-owned farms and the decline of rural communities in general. A family farm has functioned not solely as a source of income; it has been a lifestyle for thousands over the years – but farm families have become almost an endangered species. However, there is hope for those still dedicated to preserving that way of life in the form of a trend that is growing at a fantastic rate. That trend is an interest in locally grown food that could be a way to revitalize rural communities; provide quality, healthy food to the public and for some, save the family farm. There are a number of enterprising farmers, public and private farm organizations, agribusinesses and consumer groups that seem to have a shared vision – the promotion of a local, sustainable food supply. The focus of this project is to find a way to link these diverse groups associated with the local food movement. Since these groups and individuals are working towards the same end, their ability to network together is important in order to more efficiently and effectively reach their common goals. One way to help them “see” their rather extensive network of resources might be to add a visual aspect to their mission. The use of Geographic Information Systems technology to link them visually would make that possible. We are seeking to create map-based models that any of these groups or individuals could customize to geographically locate and link farmers, consumers, products, services, organizations or many other types of information that would be useful to their cause.

Materials and Methods

A set of georeferenced maps of Missouri were imported into ESRI’s ArcMap 9.1 software. These maps are based on the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) reference system. We geocoded databases of addresses using X, Y UTM coordinates for address matching. Symbols were created to represent different types of entities. By clicking on a map location symbol, an interactive information layer appears giving contact information, location data, and details regarding products available and methods of distribution. Multiple layers of information can be added as needed to the base map.

For our next map, we downloaded images and metadata containing US Census demographic information. We added a layer containing farmer’s market locations in the state and then chose a 60 mile radius of a populated region in the middle of the state. We were able to determine a potential customer base, and share this with the state’s farmer’s market association and area farmers as to the need for more vendors and more markets.

Results and Discussion

From the response received thus far, this seems to be a tool that will fill a void and solve a communication issue that has plagued the alternative agriculture community for some time. There are several print resources currently available that deal with local food. However, to create map-based versions of these publications seems much more functional and versatile. GIS is the logical tool to accomplish that. Hopefully by creating a group of interactive/interconnected maps for these organizations, individuals and businesses they will see the value of such a resource and begin using it to collectively network everyone together to expand and further the concept of local food in Missouri.


The potential dimension that GIS technology can add might enhance and accelerate the already fast pace of the local food movement. It is an essential and logical tool that farmers can add to their toolbox to help them do what they do best – raise the food that feeds the world…each providing for their own little corner of it. Perhaps in time food production and consumption can return to the way it used to be, only better and more efficient by combining the best of the past with the best of today, to produce food that is grown, marketed and consumed in the same geographic area.