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Access to Nutritious, Locally-Grown Food on the Rise

Krissy Young, NASS employee, picks organic blueberries with her family at a nearby farm in Ashton, Md.

Krissy Young, NASS employee, picks organic blueberries with her family at a nearby farm in Ashton, Md.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio

Whether in my home state of Kentucky or while visiting USDA offices in Washington, I have discovered that I can always find fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables at a nearby farmers’ market – from cucumbers and strawberries in the summer to squash and apples in the fall. It seems that more and more farmers are selling their products directly to consumers making it easier to find nutritious, fresh foods straight from the source.

In fact, according to the latest census of agriculture results, the number of U.S. farms selling agricultural products directly to consumers is increasing. In 2007, more than 136,800 of our nation’s farms were engaged in direct marketing, an increase of 17 percent from 2002. Direct sales not only benefits consumers looking for nutritious, locally-grown food but also benefits the agricultural community by providing an opportunity to diversify sales – more than $1.2 billion of agricultural products were sold directly to consumers in 2007.

Small farms, those with sales less than $250,000, are leading the way in direct marketing. In 2007, these farms generated more than half of the total value of all products sold directly to consumers and small family farms accounted for more than 90 percent of all farms engaged in direct sales.

If you can’t make it to a nearby farmers’ market another popular option for accessing nutritious, locally grown food is through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. In 2002, more than 12,500 farms in the United States operated CSAs. This method for purchasing a share of fresh foods straight from the farm was especially popular in California, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan and Texas, which together accounted for more than a quarter of all farms with CSA sales.

Increased demand for healthy, local fruits, vegetables and meats has also paved the way for greater access to organic products – with nearly 2,500 USDA certified and exempt organic farms selling their products at farmers’ markets and more than 900 growers participating in CSA arrangements. With all of these direct marketing efforts by farmers, consumers in all 50 states can now benefit from increased access to fresh, nutritious, locally-grown conventional and organic farm products.

I encourage you to check out your local farmers’ market today to taste what the season has to offer.

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