Local Produce a $5 Billion Industry

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, local agriculture generated nearly $5 billion in 2008, a figure that could increase to $7 billion by the end of this year. Whether sold directly to consumers through farmers markets or through intermediaries like grocers, local food sales have been continuously increasing for the last several years.

The increased sales are a result of several factors. Most importantly, the USDA has been aggressively marketing locally grown produce. The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign, for example, is dedicated to improving and strengthening local and regional food systems.

The USDA’s efforts over the past several years have paid off. The number of farmers markets has tripled over the past 15 years. There are currently more than 4,000 community supported agriculture operations, up from 2 in 1986. Finally, there are farm to school programs in 48 states, up from 2 in 1998.

In addition to aggressive marketing, local farmers have benefitted from increased public consciousness. For examples, in recent years consumers have become more concerned with buying green. By buying local produce, consumers can reduce their carbon footprint by limiting shipping costs.

Increased local sales can also be explained by the USDA’s redefinition of local. While sales directly to consumers are still important parts of all local agricultural sales, accounting for about $1.2 billion, the inclusion of sales made to local restaurants and regional distribution centers account for the majority of local food sales.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer