The food system is complex. Systems approaches are needed to better understand how possible actions can influence both food security and environmental sustainability. By estimating the land requirements, or “foodprints,” of different diets and mapping potential “foodsheds,” geographic areas capable of meeting the nutritional needs of human populations, the models help researchers, land use planners, food policy councils and others making decisions about land use and food access better understand their nutrition and agriculture resources.

What is a foodshed?
A foodshed describes the geographic area that supplies a population – in a city, town or community – with food. It answers the question, “Where does my food come from?” Analogous to a watershed, ‘foodshed’ encourages critical thinking about where our food comes from and how it reaches eaters. Foodsheds can help us form a mental picture of how local, regional, and global food systems work, how they have changed over time, and how they might be made more sustainable in the future.

What is a foodprint?
A foodprint describes the land requirements needed to supply a population’s nutritional needs. The land requirements include the amount and type of land necessary to meet a population’s diet.

What food do the people in your city need?
Different diets include different types and amounts of food, and, therefore, need different agricultural bases to support them. A city needs the amount of food someone consumes in a year, multiplied by the number of people in the city. Diets are made up of different food groups: protein foods (beans and legumes, eggs, meats and fish); dairy foods (milk, cheese, yogurts and other products); grains and cereals; fruits; vegetables; and oils. (Information about typical dietary patterns in the U.S. is available in the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, pg 51.)

Where can that food be produced?
Food production includes not only farms and ranches, but a whole system of infrastructure including storage facilities, mills, processing plants (for canning and freezing), slaughterhouses, bakeries (and other secondary food processors), wholesalers and distributors, retail outlets, and millions of homes, restaurants, and institutions that prepare food. Not all farms are able to produce all types of foods. Climate, soil quality, water availability, and topography all affect the variety and quantity of food a piece of land can produce.

How can we all get local food?
When considering your potential local foodshed, you must determine the types and amounts of foods your city needs, and what your regional farms are able to produce. It is also important to consider the other cities in your area, what foods they will need, and what their local farms could produce.

What kind of land will support the people in your city?
Different land is better for different types of food production. The type of agriculture for which a plot of land can be used depends on soil quality, rainfall and irrigation, and amount of direct sunlight all impact what a piece of land can produce. In general, the production of fruits (particularly perennial fruits), grains and vegetables requires high quality land—land with the right combination of soil, water, and climate. Land without that combination is typically used to support meat and dairy producing animals.

How do diet and land fit together?
When considering your potential local foodshed, you must determine the types and amounts of foods your city needs, and what your regional farms are able to produce. The amount of land needed to feed the people in your city, or the number of people your land can feed, depends on both the type of available land and the type of diet that land needs to support.

Want to learn more about foodprints, foodsheds and environmental sustainability? Here are some resources to get you started. 


State Models
Dig into research about foodprints and foodsheds in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New York.
Fact Sheets
Learn more about ways the relationship between diet and land can create a more sustainable food system.
In the News

Read the latest news about foodprints, foodsheds and sustainable food systems.

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