Local Food Sales Continue to Grow as More Farmers Sell Direct

May 14, 2014, CISA Press Release

The USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture (Ag Census) data for Massachusetts, released May 2, shows that despite the worst recession since the Great Depression, total agricultural sales held steady in the state, with a slight increase from $490 million to $492 million. Direct sales to consumers increased 14% to almost $48 million, indicating continued strong growth for the local food movement. More than 2,200 Massachusetts farms sell directly to consumers, up 25% since 2007, and Massachusetts farms rank 3rd in the nation in the per-farm value of direct market sales. Statewide, the number of CSA farms (community supported farms that sell farm shares) increased from 221 to 431.

In Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire Counties, our local farms’ total agricultural sales went up from $121 million to $128 million, a rate of increase larger than the state’s. In terms of direct sales, the growth in the three counties mirrors the statewide increase. The number of farms selling direct went up 24% to 606 farms and the value of direct sales increased 14%, from $8,945,000 to $10,443,000. The number of CSA farms almost doubled to 141 farms.

Hampshire County had the most growth of the three counties in the Pioneer Valley in terms of total sales (up from $38 million to $49 million); farms selling direct (from 160 to 221); the number of CSA farms (from 20 to 67) and the value of direct sales for human consumption (up 34% from $3,309,000 to $4,450,000).

“The strong support of local residents has helped local farms survive and thrive during a very challenging economic time in our nation’s history,” notes Philip Korman, Executive Director of CISA. “The 2012 Ag Census confirms the impact of CISA’s Local Hero Program. Farms that are able to deepen their connection with their neighbors and customers can succeed even in a tough economy. CISA’s newly released Locally Grown: Farm Products Guide includes more farms and food businesses than ever before: 249 farms and 125 food-related businesses, up 37% from five years ago.”

While direct sales did increase in the three counties, the rate of increase is not as great as it was from 2002 to 2007, when direct sales almost doubled to $8,945,000. Our three-county region saw very strong growth, however, in total sales (direct and wholesale) of vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes, with 102 more farms growing these crops and sales going up from $26,831,000 to $45,153,000. Statewide, sales of these crops grew from $59 million in 2007 to $81 million in 2012, and farms in our three counties accounted for 88% of this growth. Massachusetts farms now produce 56% of the total value of these crops sold in the Commonwealth.

The census numbers confirm that Massachusetts dairy farms continue to be threatened. Farms that do not sell their own branded products and must accept the national price of milk are especially challenged, and the total number of dairy farms in Massachusetts decreased from 258 to 147. Our three-county region lost 44 dairy farms, leaving only 60 still in operation. The fate of dairy farms is particularly important because they steward a disproportionate share of the state’s farmland, putting our vital land base at risk when a dairy farm business fails. Although dairy farms are only 3% of the farms in our three counties, sales of milk account for 14% of the value of all farm sales.

The support of local residents is vital to the health of local farms. At the same time, residents of our three counties benefit from healthy food, increased economic resilience, and open space. “Food provides us with one route to recapturing our role as creators of our own communities, stewards of our land, and protectors of our children’s health and well-being,” said Mr. Korman. “Moving forward it is even more important that we all get involved in supporting our farmers and building our local food economy.”

CISA is a nationally recognized organization of farmers, community members and advocates working together to strengthen farms and engage the community to build the local food economy. Working in western Massachusetts and the region for over 20 years, CISA offers assistance to farmers, provides farm shares for low-income seniors and runs the nation’s oldest agricultural “buy local” campaign – “Be a Local Hero, Buy Locally Grown®.” Find out more about our work to double the amount of local food in our diets at www.buylocalfood.org or call 413-665-7100.

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