Two recent studies show that the market for local and organic products is growing rapidly. Both reports document that the local foods movement has been growing steadily for more than a decade, and farmers’ markets have been at the forefront of this growth. Even though some of the best-known markets are in big cities like New York; Seattle; or Washington, DC; there are hundreds of farmers’ markets in the southeastern US and Appalachia, as well as other areas of mostly small- or medium-sized towns and rural areas.
Despite this progress, some have criticized the local food movement as “elitist,” since locally-grown foods are often too expensive for the working class, the poor, and seniors on fixed incomes. To evaluate the successes of the local food movement and the criticism that local foods are unaffordable, SCALE, Inc. surveyed farmers’ markets in six states in Appalachia and the Southeast to compare food from farmers’ markets to food from the grocery store.
The study surveyed 24 markets in 19 communities in the Southeast and Appalachia. According to the study, farmers’ market prices were competitive with those at supermarkets for several different groups of foods, including produce, meat, and eggs. Both produce and organic produce tended to be less expensive at farmers’ markets. However, meats and eggs were often more expensive at farmers’ markets than the grocery store. When the least expensive item at the farmers’ market was compared to the least expensive item at the grocery store, the farmers’ market was more expensive half the time and the same or less expensive half the time. But when the cheapest farmers’ market item was compared to the cheapest comparable product at the grocery store, the farmers’ market item was the same or less expensive nearly three-quarters of the time.
According to another study, published recently by the Organic Trade Association, 78 percent of U.S. families say they purchase organic foods, a higher percentage than ever before, and four out of 10 families are buying more organic foods than they were a year ago. About 48 percent of people surveyed said that the main reason they buy organic is that they believe organic products are healthier for them and their family. Other reasons given included concerns about the effects of hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics on children, and a desire to avoid highly-processed ingredients.
In an email interview, Barbara Haumann of the Organic Trade Association shared some information about this study. She said that these results are significant because they show that an increasing number of consumers in the U.S. are buying organic products. “Also, increasingly, scientists who are exploring the future of agriculture–both here in the United States and abroad–are recommending that farmers employ organic practices to safeguard our planet’s water supplies, soil resources (building healthy soils), address climate changes issues, and improve the health of our planet overall,” she said.
Haumann also shared some information about the growth of the organic industry. In 2010, the organic food industry grew by eight percent, while the conventional industry grew only 0.6 percent. Also, in the period of 2000-2011, the annual growth of the organic industry has been consistently higher than the annual growth of the Gross Domestic Product, which is the equivalent of the total market value of all the goods and services produced in the country.
All of this is positive news for the future of organic marketing, building upon the public’s great interest in eating food that is healthier and more sustainable.