The good news:

American farmers say they’re selling $4.8 billion a year in fruits and vegetables in their local markets, according to a new analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Though the number of farmer’s markets doubled between 1998 and 2009, the bulk of the new sales came from supermarkets and restaurants.

“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 bad news:

Although the $5 billion number sounds big, it represents just 2 percent of American agricultural sales. The rest — 98 percent — comes largely from sales of big commodities like soybeans and corn. Even so, the next set of numbers on local food sales from USDA should reveal whether local food is a fad, or a business model that’s here to stay.

Micheal Pollan explains the reason for the disparity: public policy.

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