Data from the first extensive survey of local food sales in the U.S. shows that Massachusetts farmers are national leaders in sales of food products directly to consumers.
Massachusetts ranks fifth nationally in direct to consumer sales from farms, with $136 million in sales in 2015 from farmers markets, farmstands, community-supported agriculture (CSA) operations, and other farmer-run retail outlets, according to the USDA’s 2015 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey. This number is made even more significant when noted that the other high-ranking states include California, New York, and other large agricultural states, while Massachusetts ranks only 47th among all states in total cash receipts for farms, according to 2015 data from USDA. In fact, when direct-to-consumer sales are measured against total farm sales, Massachusetts leads the nation.
The survey also ranked Massachusetts eighth among states based on total direct farm sales, with $229 million in sales from farms directly to institutions, retailers, and local distributors, as well as consumers. A total of 2,426 Massachusetts farms combined for these sales. $75 million of these sales are value-added products like meats, eggs, preserved fruits and vegetables, and dairy products, such as cheese and butter.
Direct farm sales are critical to farm sustainability, because by eliminating many of the steps along the wholesale supply chain, farmers are able to sell their products at a price which allows them to cover their costs of producing the food. In turn, these sales boost the local economy, create jobs and economic opportunity, and preserve farmland and natural resources.
Massachusetts has long been a pioneer in direct to consumer sales. The first CSA was established in Great Barrington in 1986, The number of farmers markets has grown dramatically in the last decade, supported by the work of the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets. South Deerfield-based Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) launched one of the first buy local education campaigns in 1994, and many other regional organizations have followed suit. The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resource’s “Massachusetts grown…and fresher” initiative was one of the first statewide branding efforts in the nation.
The first goal of the 2015 Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan is “Increase production, sales and consumption of Massachusetts-grown foods,” and dozens of organizations around the Commonwealth are working toward that goal. The Massachusetts Food System Collaborative works to promote, monitor, and facilitate implementation of the Plan.
The 2015 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey was designed to collect data related to the marketing of foods directly from farm producers to consumers, institutions, retailers who then sell directly to consumers, and intermediate markets who sell locally or regionally branded products. The primary purpose of the Local Food Marketing Practices Survey was to produce benchmark statistics on the number of operations that sell using direct marketing channels, the value of these foods sales, and marketing practices.