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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

USDA Report: Local Food Markets Growing, Effects on Health Still Unclear

Cassandra West

By Susan Richardson Farmers markets and other  direct sales of produce to consumers account for a small, but growing, share of U.S. agricultural production, according to a new report by the Economic Research Service, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  "For smaller farms, direct marketing to consumers accounts for a higher percentage of their sales than for larger farms," according to the report.    But researchers are still unclear what impact the healthier food options are having on improved nutrition in communities.  The report, titled Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues," also finds that there is insufficient research to determine the effect of locally grown food on energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions.  

Key findings of the report include

  • Federal, state, and local government programs increasingly support local food systems.
  • Production of locally marketed food is more likely to occur on small farms located in or near metropolitan counties. 
  • The number of farmers’ markets rose to 5,274 in 2009, up from 2,756 in 1998 and 1,755 in 1994, according to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
  • There are  few studies on the impact of local food markets on economic development, health, or environmental quality. But research suggests that expanding local food systems can increase employment and income in communities.