Local Food Could Quadruple Job Growth
Days before the biggest food holiday of the year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has some big news for small food producers. The local food movement is padding farmers' coffers and employing four times more people than if those farmers focused only on national or international sales, according to a new report from the agency's Economic Research Service (ERS).
It's no secret that the USDA wants you to buy local food—they launched a "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" campaign back in 2009—but the agency's report adds some serious economic reasons to that push. It found that local food sales were bringing in as much as $5 million for some farmers, accounting for 61 percent of total sales. In a new blog on the agency's website, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan outlined some of the highlights of the report:
1. Local markets are important for a lot of farmers. ERS finds that a whopping 40 percent of all vegetable, fruit, and nut farms in the United States sell their products in local and regional markets. Nearly 110,000 farms across the nation are engaged. On average, these farms reported that local food sales accounted for 61 percent of their total sales. Almost two-thirds of the producers, regardless of size, reported that local food sales were at least 75 percent of their total sales.
2. The market for local foods goes well beyond direct-to-consumer sales. Direct sales from farms to consumers have been growing for two decades, rising 215 percent between 1992 and 2007. But for the first time, the new ERS report also looks at what are called "intermediated marketing channels," or sales from a farmer to a regional distributor, grocer, or restaurant, and then on to a consumer. Combined, those sales totaled nearly $5 billion in 2008. Intermediated sales were three times larger than direct-to-consumer sales—so in other words, farm sales to regional distributors, grocers, and restaurants are a big piece of the local food picture.
3. Local doesn't necessarily mean small. Farms selling locally run the gamut from small to large—from those with gross sales under $50,000 to those grossing over $250,000. Large farms are more likely to sell to restaurants, distributors, and retailers than are small farms, and direct-to-consumer sales are evenly split between small, midsize, and large farms.
4. Local means jobs. One out of every 12 jobs in the U.S. is associated with agriculture, and local food plays a role in that. The ERS report finds that fruit and vegetable farms selling into local and regional markets employ 13 full-time workers per $1 million in revenue earned, for a total of 61,000 jobs in 2008. In comparison, fruit and vegetable farms not engaged in local food sales employed 3 full-time workers per $1 million in revenue.
This isn't the first report to show that local food economies could pull America out of this trench of stubborn unemployment. Back in August, the Union of Concerned Scientists found that investment in farmer's markets could generate 13,000 new jobs in five years. How's that for some deficit reduction?