Eat Local On The Rise, But Direct to Consumer Ag. Tough

Posted on by Michael Caplan

The USDA release a new report on the Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States last month.  Food+Tech Connect has a new post where they draw out the key points as part of their infographic series.  

In my mind, local foods are best consumed direct from the producer in order to maximize the benefits of regional economics.  As outlined in Food+Tech's summary, local food in the US has grown four times since previous studies.  And that is good news.  

However, most of food dollars that passes through the local economy is not direct to consumer, but through distributors, grocers, and restaurants.  Farm markets, farm stores, and CSAs are representative of a much smaller slice of the local food pie.

Why this big divide when my unschooled mind assumes that there are greater profit margins to be had with direct to consumer models?  The study explains this by pointing to a lack of infrastructure and appropriate technologies available to farmers to successfully run a direct to consumer program.

Hopefully tools like HarvestHand will help solve this problem and make direct to consumer CSA programs a more profitable and accessible vehicle for farm operators.  

Also, the info outlined also seems to hint at another reason why this is so.  Of the direct to consumer platforms that farms are leveraging, CSA programs only represent a measly 1% among small farm operators and is not even on the map for large farm operators.  Direct to consumer means farm markets, farm stands, and on farm stores.  These are important vehicles, however I don't see how these platforms can be scaled out to meet the needs of a largely urbanized consumer base.  I suspect that given the relative youth of the CSA model, there is a lot of untapped potential to be won here.

Clearly, local food is a growing sector of the food economy.  I also can see a great opportunity for farmers leveraging appropriate tools winning big building the new direct to consumer economy with CSA programs.


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