Are Farmers Market Sales Peaking? (NPR likes to say so)

Let me say first that I have only begun to read the report cited and that the authors have done some excellent research. The issue is really that outlets like NPR offer snappy headlines and a sound bite or two rather than the entire story. However, it is important that food system organizers communicate more data than that to their market community.

I’ll begin with one of the conclusions from the report:
• It is difficult to draw conclusions about the local economic impact of local foods systems because the existing literature has narrow geographic and market scope, making comparing studies complicated. Data necessary to conduct economic impact analyses are costly to obtain, and researchers have yet to agree on a standard way of accounting for the opportunity costs involved when local foods are produced and purchased or on a standard set of economic modeling assumptions. Many questions surrounding the economic impact of local foods remain unanswered and could be addressed by future research (e.g., Are local food systems good for the rural economy? Might the economic benefits of expanding local food systems be unevenly distributed?)
(The authors do mention that case studies are helpful in local food system research because of the chance for context, but warn that makes generalities difficult.)

here are some other facts from the report:

Farms selling local food through DTC marketing channels were more likely to remain in business over 2007-12 than all farms not using DTC marketing channels, according to census of agriculture data.

•The significance of local food sales totaling an estimated $6.1 billion in 2012.

For organizers (markets, CSAs, farm stands) the takeaway is clear:

1. We need to collect data and work with those researchers that also want to collect it to paint a more nuanced story of the positive impacts of these channels than were able to be included in the report. Those are not limited to: new product testing, constant cycles of introduction for eaters and producers, the opportunity for attempting small (often risky) pilots for increasing access, educational resources for youth, urban/rural connections and more.

2. That data has to be on the multiple impacts of markets, not just on direct sales. Do farmers meet other buyers (intermediate) at the market? Are other outlets dependent on the market for pick up of their goods? Is it a important way for family members to start working for the farm? What about access to shoppers using benefit program dollars-is this an area of new customer sales that DTC farmers have captured almost entirely (and influenced recent national policy?)

3. A dip in the number of new markets opening or DTC sales flattening for a time (if that is indeed the case) may mean something quite different than the implicit assertion that consumers and farmers are choosing other outlets. Factors may include weather issues, or regulatory pressures (see the fee hike suggested by King County in this story as an example) or farmers unable or unwilling to separate sales outlets when reporting data.

4. An example of how market organizers could help researchers is by gathering anecdotal info for future studies to see if DTC farmers choose autonomy and non-economic benefits over higher incomes as was suggested in the report:

The lower total household income suggests that farmers with direct sales may have had less favorable off-farm income opportunities. If true, this could provide them with an incentive to remain in business even if they have less ability or opportunity to expand production.
Higher survival rates and slower growth for those with direct sales might also be explained by different attitudes toward farm versus nonfarm work. Researchers have found evidence that nonpecuniary benefits from self-employment explain why small business owners remain in business despite earning less income (Hamilton, 2000). There is also evidence that the non-pecuniary benefits to farming (e.g., greater autonomy, independence, and lifestyle factors) are substantial (Key and Roberts, 2009). It is possible that farmers who sell directly to consumers derive greater nonpecuniary benefits from their work—perhaps they enjoy interacting with their customers. This would provide a greater incentive for them to remain in business even with lower business expansion possibilities.

    Positive impacts

•The economic benefits of farmers’ markets may also extend beyond multiplier effects, which measure short-term impacts. Lev et al. (2003), for example, found that businesses near farmers’ markets reported higher sales on market days. Not only were these additional sales found to directly support the businesses themselves, but they also generated extra tax revenue for the communities in which the markets were located. Brown (2002) found some evidence that farmers’ markets increase property values in the market district.

•Additionally, farmers’ markets can function as business incubators by providing the infrastructure necessary to build skills and gain business experience (Feenstra et al., 2003; Gillespie et al., 2007). Regular interactions can “generate and circulate knowledge that vendors might use to develop new products and creative ways of marketing them” (Hinrichs et al., 2004: 32-33). Feenstra et al. (2003), for example, explored New York, Iowa, and California farmers’ market contributions to the development of vendors’ capacity as entrepreneurs and found that 66 percent of vendors expanded an existing product line, 50 percent added a new product category, and 40 percent made new business contacts. Sales income may be less important than the skills and business experience developed through participation in farmers’ markets (Brown et al., 2007).

Direct marketing was also associated with higher survival rates among beginning farmers (columns 3 and 4, table 5). On average, beginning farmers who marketed directly to consumers had a 54.3-percent survival rate, compared to 47.4 percent for those who marketed their goods through traditional channels.
What is it about DTC sales that seem to enhance farmers’ chances of maintaining positive sales? One advantage might stem from the fact that, for a given level of sales, farmers with direct marketing purchased less machinery and land than did those with traditional marketing. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture data, farmers who marketed directly owned $20.82 worth of machinery per dollar of sales, compared to $31.10 for those who marketed through conventional channels. Farmers selling directly to consumers also owned less land: $240 worth of land per dollar of sales, compared to $309 per dollar of sales for other farmers. Because they did not need to purchase as much machinery and land to achieve a certain level of sales, farmers with direct sales did not need to leverage as much of their wealth to obtain financing. This is confirmed by the census data, which show that farmers with direct sales had annual interest payments of only $7.85 per $1,000 of owned assets, compared to $10.55 for those with no direct sales. A lower debt-to-asset ratio should indicate a better ability to repay loans and has been shown to reduce the risk of small business failure (Tveteras and Eide, 2000; Strotmann, 2007; Fotopoulos and Louri, 2000).

Are Farmers Market Sales Peaking? That Might Be Good For Farmers : The Salt : NPR.

the actual USDA report

Hospitals take on local

From NCAT newsletter: A survey of hospitals was conducted in June 2011 to gather data on advances made in 2010. Eighty-nine facilities completed the survey including many that have signed the HCWH Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, a commitment to work in a stepwise fashion to source more local and sustainably produced food among other activities. Facilities ranged in size from 11 to 1200 beds with an average size of 300. They served an average of 731 patient meals and 1650 cafeteria meals per day in 2010 and spent approximately $291 million dollars total on food and beverages.

Some survey results:

Many facilities are choosing to purchase and serve more locally sourced and sustainably produced food and beverages—
• 94.1 percent purchased and served local food or beverages
• 80 percent purchased sustainable dairy products
• 45 percent purchased sustainable beef
• 36 percent purchased sustainable chicken

Build direct relationships with local farms
• 81.8 percent of respondents host a farmers’ market, farm stand or community-supported agriculture (CSA program on-site)
• 60 percent purchased directly from a farm, ranch or farm cooperative

Waste Reduction
• 66.2 percent of respondents used bio-based non-reusable food service ware and takeout containers
• 50 percent use a room service model for patient food delivery
• 39.5 percent had a program in place to compost organic materials (food waste and compostable paper and plastic food ware items)
• 37.7 percent had a usable food donation program in place

“This Menu of Change report is an excellent introduction for anyone seeking to begin a sustainable foods program at their hospital,” said Marie Kulick, MSEL, HFHC Sustainable Procurement advisor and report co-author. “In addition to the survey data which can be used to set goals, the report includes lively, informative anecdotes from peers, cost cutting strategies, profiles of leading institutions and more.”

The 2011 Menu of Change report also summarizes major HFHC activities taking place in nine states; and describes the HFHC initiatives, including Balanced Menus, Non-Therapeutic Use of Antibiotics Prevention, the HFHC Pledge, the Green Guide for Health Care Food Service Toolkit, and recent efforts to reduce or eliminate Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, among other initiatives promoted by the HCWH. It also contains a listing of contacts for hospital and food service directors or activists to reach out to HFHC program staff for assistance.

“Hospitals are increasingly being seen as anchor institutions that are needed to support healthier communities and a healthier local economy,” stated Gary Cohen, President of HCWH. “If we are to solve the epidemic and escalating costs of obesity in American society, hospitals need to be critical partners in redesigning sustainable food systems and modeling the kind of food choices that the rest of us need to adopt. The Healthy Food Program is creating these models and pointing the way toward this systemic transformation.”

The 2011 Menu of Change report was co-written by Sirois, Kulick and Alyssa Nathanson, MD, RD, HFHC Vermont coordinator. Results of the survey were used to determine the HCWH HFHC awards given at the organization’s 2011 FoodMed. And award winners are profiled in the report.

The HFHC Program is a national initiative of HCWH, developed in conjunction with its member organizations, which mobilizes advocates to work with hospitals across the country to help improve the sustainability of their food services. For more information about the HCWH Healthy Food in Health Care Program, visit
Report Press release

Cookbook LA

I know Echo Park because of the fine weekday evening market that is run by SEE-LA, which also runs many others in L.A. including the iconic Hollywood Farmers Market. When I worked at, they conducted a pilot of their NEED tool (meant to measure social capital) at that location and at SEE-LA’s other markets. I visited during the survey days and was very impressed at the location and vibrancy of it and their other “food security” and “neighborhood/niche” types of markets.
This Green Grocer was not around in 2007, so I have to believe that part of the credit for its birth must go to the Echo Park Farmers Market and the SEE-LA organizers.
Cookbook LA

1-acre urban farming workshop in NYC

The Brooklyn Grange (Queens, New York)

Sunday, June 12th, 4pm-8:30pm

Free for NOFA-NY members/$15 for non-members

Looking for insight on starting or improving your urban farm? Join us on June 12th in Queens, NY to delve into the challenging yet rewarding business of rooftop farming & production for urban markets. The Brooklyn Grange is a working farm on a rooftop in Long Island City, Queens, New York. Ben Flanner is the founding farmer and CEO of the 1-acre farm, which uses 750 cubic yards of soil to produce vegetables for farmers’ markets, restaurants and a 25-member CSA. The farm is actively expanding to incorporate educational efforts, in the form of their City Growers program. They are also planning to include bees and chickens into their rooftop environment. During our Beginning Farmer Workshop, the farmers at The Brooklyn Grange will discuss the philosophical and technical aspects of their farming operation, including the process of site selection, rooftop farm installation & funding. Through a thorough exploration of the 1-acre farm, we will see space-saving intercropping, crop rotations, soil fertility management, the unique aspects of farming a formerly non-agricultural acre of space & much more! To celebrate the revival of city agriculture, we will end the day with a rooftop potluck picnic & social hour (please bring food to share & your own place settings). This event is free for NOFA-NY members, $15 for non-members- some scholarships may be available. For more information, visit or call Rachel at (585) 271-1979 ext. 511. Space is limited to 30 attendees, so pre-register by June 6th to guarantee your spot! If you are looking to share transportation or lodging to attend this event, please see our newly-launched virtual bulletin board at

Where do food truck vendors use the bathroom?

Street vendors are interviewed about their culture:

Huff Post article