Local Food Important to Consumers

Safety, quality and the environment seem to be on the minds of American consumers lately. In light of recent food scares and the push for greener lifestyles, many are opting to buy local foods or get their produce directly from the farmer. This cuts down on the amount of energy and emissions associated with transporting food from different areas of the country.

A recent study by Ohio State professor Dr. Marvin Batte found that grocery shoppers are willing to shell out more money for locally grown foods. Deemed fresher, more environmentally friendly and a boost to local farmers, consumers say they were willing to pay more for quality produce.

On the heels of this study, Wal-Mart announced that it is beginning an initiative to purchase and sell more than $400 million worth of produce grown by local farmers this year. This move will cut 672,000 “food miles” and add up to about $1.4 million in annual savings for the company. Wal-Mart is now the nation’s leading purchaser of community produce.

Local farmers’ markets are also thriving. The number of markets in the U.S. has increased 21 percent in the past four years. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, farmers’ market revenue will top $1 billion this year. What used to be a rural phenomenon has turned into a hip trend.

Some consumers are taking their environmental convictions and love of local food one step further. A growing group of Americans has passed over grocery stores and markets completely by purchasing shares of community farms. According to a July 10 article in The New York Times entitled “Cutting Out the Middlemen, Shoppers Buy Slices of Farms,” this new brand of sharecropping has increased in popularity since its inception in the 1990s. Shareholders in these farms pay a fee and are entitled to a certain percentage of crops and livestock. This movement has supported small local farmers and allowed the community to take an active role in food production.

These trends are already making an impact on how farmers operate. In addition, the push for local food and environmentally friendly practices seem likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The question now is: How will this affect the American agricultural industry?

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