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