USDA: Locally grown food a $4.8 billion business

A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report says sales of "local foods," whether sold direct to consumers at farmers markets or through intermediaries such as grocers or restaurants, amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008. That's a number several times greater than earlier estimates, and the department predicts locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales this year, The Associated Press reported.

While there's plenty of evidence local food sales have been growing, it has been hard to say by how much because governments, companies, consumers and food markets disagree on what qualifies as local.(Check out Harvest Public Media's reporting on this.)

The report,  "Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States," offers other interesting insights. For example:

  • The local food movement is dominated by fruit and vegetable growers. While only 5 percent of U.S. farms sell their products in local and regional markets, 40 percent of vegetable, fruit and nut farms do.
  • The number of farms selling directly to consumers has grown, from an estimated 86,000 in the early 1990s to about 136,000 now. And the number of farmers markets has about doubled, from 2,756 in 1998 to 5,274 in 2009.
  • Sales through intermediated marketing channels, such as farmers’ sales to local grocers and restaurants, account for a large portion of all local food sales. Small and medium-sized farms dominate local foods sales marketed exclusively through direct-to-consumer channels (foods sold at roadside stands or farmers’ markets, for example) while large farms dominate local food sales marketed exclusively through intermediated channels.
  •  Farmers marketing food locally are most prominent in the Northeast and the West Coast regions and areas close to densely populated urban markets.