Consumers should weigh value of homegrown food.

Growers in Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri have an expanding opportunity to market their produce to willing buyers.

Buying local is becoming a higher priority among consumers. For farmers, it creates a new, largely untapped niche, a study by a Kansas State University researcher has found.

"The theme of supporting local agriculture found appeal across all ages, genders and income levels," researcher Sarah Bernard says.

The appeal of buying locally grown food includes supporting the community, environment and better health. Women are more motivated on these factors, as well as shoppers over age 55. Since women tend to be the primary shoppers for food products, local growers have a chance to reach new customers, Ms. Bernard says.

Price, inconvenience and an unfamiliar brand were barriers to buying local food. But once people try local beef, as one example, those factors fade away. The taste and quality apparently make up for any inconvenience and price gap.

K-State research suggests producers should give people a chance to sample their food or offer an incentive for a small purchase.

Some local brands have overcome the odds by becoming household names. Shatto Milk Co. and Schweizer Orchard are just two examples.

Also, several greenhouses around the region have established reputations of excellence.

Traditional agriculture produces abundant, affordable food for people here and around the world. Local businesses can fill in the gaps with fresh, high-quality meat and produce that meet consumer needs.

Escalating fuel prices likely will make local foodstuffs more competitive. These products also contribute to the regional economy.

The road to value-added agriculture has been a rocky one, but the time appears ripe for farmers to capitalize on their location and help shoppers keep it local.

-- The St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press