US Local Foods Market To Generate $7 Billion in 2011 Sales

A new report from the US Department of Agriculture shows that the market for sales of local foods in the US is much larger than previously thought. Perhaps by a factor of several times greater. The report estimated that such local sales nearly reached $5 billion in 2008, and could top $7 billion this year. While it is a known fact that local food sales have risen over the past few years, exact figures are hard to determine because government agencies, companies, consumers and markets disagree on what qualifies as local.

The USDA’s report was compiled using sales data from intermediaries, such as local supermarkets and restaurants as well as food sold directly to consumers at farmers markets or roadside produce stands. The data showed that the amount of produce sold directly from growers to the public has nearly doubled over the last twenty years, from about $650 million in 1990, a figure that was adjusted for inflation, to about $1.2 billion in 2008. Another $2.6 billion, meanwhile, was sold to local restaurants, retailers and distributors in 2008.

Furthermore, the study showed that the local food market is dominated by produce. As 40 percent of the nation’s fruit, vegetable and nut producing farms sell products in local and regional markets, while just 5 percent of all US farms do. The total number of farms selling goods directly to consumers has risen from just 86,000 in the early 90s to about 136,000 now, according to the report. The number of farmers markets across the country, meanwhile, has expanded from just 2,756 in 1998 to 5,274 in 2009.

The rising popularity of farmers markets is largely driven by the perception of locally grown foods as organic, a belief that experts say is not always true. Consumers purchasing produce at farmers markets are advised to ask merchants if they are indeed selling organic foods, a distinction that requires strict requirements for growers and is overseen by the Agriculture Department.