Good news for small farmers and local foodies: The buy-local movement is no longer a niche market for just a few interested customers. American farmers said they were selling $4.8 billion worth of produce a year at local markets in 2008, according to a new analysis by the USDA [PDF]—which predicts this year's sales could reach $7 billion.
"There have been a lot of questions in the past if promoting local foods is even worth it," says Sarah Low, an economist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, who was co-author of the study. But these numbers, she tells The Salt, "suggest that there could be a lot more room to increase demand."
Indeed, the lion's share — $2.7 to $3.8 billion — came from farmers selling food through channels like restaurants and grocery stores. It was the first time the USDA has included those sales in surveying local food markets.
The restaurant and store markets are attracting bigger farmers who have too much produce to efficiently sell direct to consumers, Low says. "Forty percent of all fruit and vegetable producers are now selling locally," she added. And even though her numbers don't explicitly track growth, "that to me suggests some growth."
Perhaps more interestingly, the LA Times points out some numbers that make the concentration of the agriculture industry look pretty similar to the economic divide that has sparked the Occupy movement against the richest 1%.
The USDA found that more than 80% of local food producers are small farms making less than $50,000 in gross annual sales. But large farms pulling in $250,000 or more, which represent 5% of the farms with local food offerings, account for in 92% of the associated revenue.
But if the growth of small farms over the last decade continues, as the report predicts it will, there's a promising future ahead.