Mapping Markets and Organic Demand

Today is “Direct Markets” day for the USDA’s new “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, with the big event being the opening of a farmers market near the White House.

In recent years, the value of direct sales from farms to individuals has seen significant growth:  from about $800 million in 2002 to just over $1.2 billion in 2007 (According to the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture, PDF). The sales are happening at farm stands, at U-pick sites, and at farmers markets.

This last source of farm-direct produce has become much more common in recent years, growing from 1,755 markets in 1994 to 4,685 in 2008 (source: USDA). And they are wide-spread across the country, as this map from the USDA indicates.

A few years ago, staff from the University of Maryland and the USDA Economic Research Service conducted a survey of market managers from 20 states, asking about sales, number of farmers, and demand for organic products. The final report  (VGS-301-01) includes the map shown below, which illustrates the level of demand for organic products at the surveyed markets.  Demand was strongest near major urban centers, near areas with higher education facilities, and near certain religious communities.

Although direct farm-to-individual sales are growing — and keeping many small farms in business — direct sales are only one part of the evolution to a more sustainable food system. Local food infrastructure — meat packing, vegetable canning, fruit processing and the like — has been withering for decades and will also need to be rebuilt.  Fortunately, the USDA is putting some money behind this week’s campaign, as Sam Fromartz reports. One of these programs, the Community Facilities program, has hundreds of millions in loan funds and over $30 million in grant funds available for construction or renovation of facilities like community canning centers, cooking schools, and food banks.

Tomato photo by Jennifer M. aka Baklava Queen

5 Responsesto “Mapping Markets and Organic Demand”

  1. Janet says:

    So what’s going on that Alabama is covered with markets and more-populous Georgia has but a handful? Are the data suspect, or is Alabama doing something to encourage markets that Georgia and other places need to know about? And what’s up with the organic demand in New Mexico?  These maps raise lots of questions!

  2. I’d guess that some of the organic demand in New Mexico is driven by the affluence of Taos & Santa Fe, the university and highly-educated people in Albuquerque (e.g., Sandia National Lab, U of N.M., Lovelace Institute), and maybe the particular culture of the Santa Fe area.  Besides New Mexico State University in Las Cruces (college towns generally have strong organic demand), I’m not sure what is going on with the southern part of the state.

    The USDA farmers market search tool, lists only 18 farmers markets in Georgia and 110 in Alabama.  I’d also be curious to hear why Alabama has so many and Georgia so few.

  3. Curtis White says:

    I can only speak from experience, but the many years I have spent in Georgia selling Organic meats and vegetables, I have ran into numerous obstacles. Whether it is the health dept, or Ag division of the state, they
    appear to be unable to understand the concept of farmer to table, or are told to hamper it. I spent 6 months trying to get an approved label for my pork through Georgia, finally I gave up and went to S.C. to have them processed at a USDA plant. Through the USDA it took two weeks for approval. This increased my expense, and took over $70,000 from the pocket of a Georgia processor.  My unqualified theory is that Georgia must have a stronger industrial farm lobbyist than Alabama. As for using education as a precursor for where Organics will sell, I disagree. My customers are close to half and half (rich/poor/educated/non-educated)
    Everyone wants clean good tasting food, but then I don’t overcharge, and demand prices far exceeding their value, simply because it is fashionable!

  4. Janet says:

    Interesting, Curtis. Maybe you or the Georgia processor ought to point out that the state is missing out! Good for you for persisting.

  5. I applaud the USDA for FINALLY embracing local agriculture.  It’s time they stopped seeing the local food economy as antagonistic to conventional agriculture!