Dr. O’Hara researches and advocates for federal programs, including those in the farm bill, that provide financial incentives to farmers engaging in environmentally sustainable practices. His expertise also includes local food systems and community development. Dr. O’Hara has written numerous reports on farmers markets that include examining their economic impacts and health benefits. Before joining UCS, Dr. O’Hara worked at the Chicago Climate Exchange, Congressional Budget Office and Charles River Associates. Dr. O’Hara has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and a B.S. in economics from The George Washington University. He been working on local food issues as an economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) since December 2010. UCS has a vast external communications network with an alliance that consists of 400,000 citizens and scientists.
Research and evaluation are becoming an increasingly important component of local foods policy. Dr O’Hara has a unique background at working at the interface between academic research and policy development, with a responsibility of developing outreach to academics and translating the key findings for policymakers. As an example, he co-hosted a meeting last year with Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems of economists and local food researchers to review methodologies that quantified the economic impacts of local food systems. Dr O’Hara has made numerous presentations on these issues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and at Congressional briefings.
Dr O’Hara has worked closely with FMC in many capacities in the last several years. Specific instances of collaborating or working with FMC and the farmers market sector include:
• Stacy Miller served as a reviewer for a report Dr O’Hara wrote in 2011 (Market Forces) about the economic impacts of farmers markets.
• Dr O’Hara served as a reviewer of FMC’s report on the survey results of FMPP grantees between 2006-2011.
• Dr O’Hara led UCS’s efforts at advocating for provisions in the Local Food Farms and Jobs Act. Some of the provisions in this bill were designed to support farmers markets, including the Farmers Market Promotion Program.
• Dr O’Hara also led efforts to increase the awareness of farmers markets during National Farmers Market Week. Dr O’Hara wrote reports that were released at farmers markets during this week in 2011 and 2013 that garnered significant media attention, including coverage in the New York Times.
• Dr O’Hara collaborated with FMC staff on developing comments for rulemaking and implementation of the Farm Bill’s FMPP and nutrition incentives program.
• Dr O’Hara is currently researching a report on how hospitals can redirect community benefit expenditures to support farmers markets that administer nutrition incentive vouchers.