Growth in Local Foods Business

‘Locally Grown’ Food Now A $4.8 Billion Business, Says USDA Report
By JIM SUHR 11/14/11 08:04 AM ET

ST. LOUIS — Carolyn Anderson likes to chat up the growers at her local farmers market in Missouri, at times hanging out behind the beds of pickup trucks brimming with ears of corn.

For Anderson, 29, it’s all about keeping it “local.” And there’s fresh evidence of just how big of a deal that word can mean for farmers’ finances.

A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report says sales of “local foods,” whether sold direct to consumers at farmers markets or through intermediaries such as grocers or restaurants, amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008. That’s a number several times greater than earlier estimates, and the department predicts locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales this year.

While there’s plenty of evidence local food sales have been growing, it has been hard to say by how much because governments, companies, consumers and food markets disagree on what qualifies as local. The USDA report included sales to intermediaries, such as local grocers and restaurants, as well as directly to consumers through farmers markets, roadside stands and the like.

It found that farm sales to people like Anderson have just about doubled in the past two decades, from about $650 million, adjusted for inflation, in the early 1990s to about $1.2 billion these days. The much bigger, $4.8 billion figure came when sales to local restaurants, retailers and regional food distributors were added in.

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