The demand for local food is exceeding the infrastructure says a new report from the USDA's Economic Research Service, titled "Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States."
Data collected from the 2008 Agricultural Resource Management Survey found that locally grown food—while still accounting for a considerably smaller percentage of food sales—exceeded estimates by as much as four times, grossing $4.8 billion in marketing expenses.
While most local food is sold to restaurants, grocers and specialty retailers, a considerable amount is sold direct to consumer—particularly on the West coast— through farmers markets and CSA (community supported agriculture) programs.
An emphasis on healthier food for students has prompted school districts around the country to begin sourcing ingredients from nearby farmers including fresh produce and animal products.
"Sourcing locally grown food not only ensures freshness, but it supports community," says Los Angeles Master Gardener and permaculture designer, Baza Novic.
"Local food" is not a regulated term, but generally indicates food grown or raised within several hundred miles of where it's sold. It would not apply to any processed food manufactured within the same distance unless the ingredients used were also sourced locally.
Large-scale farms make up more than 90 percent of the value of local food sales through intermediate channels, and small-scale farms with revenues of $50,000 or less accounted for more than 81 percent of direct farm-to-consumer sales, according to the report.
"Connecting with our local food sources connects us with our food on a deeper level, and that's an important thing," says Novic, "food production is part of the community, and not just something you pop in the microwave." And Novic encourages interaction with farms too, "There are lots of great ways to help these small, local farms grow, from volunteering to spreading the word about their offerings; the more we help build the infrastructure of our local farms, the more we all benefit."
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