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Direct farm sales of food up 3 percent from 2015 to 2020

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – Direct farm sales of food increased 3 percent from 2015 to 2020.

But the number of organizations selling locally produced food decreased by 12 percent during that same time, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

According to NASS, U.S. farmers produced and sold $9 billion worth of local edible food directly to consumers, retailers, institutions and intermediaries in 2020.

Direct-to-consumer sales of food accounted for 33 percent of that total, while intermediaries and institutions accounted for 46 percent of direct food sales, and direct sales to retailers accounted for 21 percent.

“The 3 percent increase from 2015 to 2020 in direct farm sales is a hopeful sign that consumers are sourcing more food from local producers,” said Katie Baker, executive director of FARE Idaho, which was founded in 2020 to help independent restaurants as well as the farmers and ranchers that sell food products to them.

One of the main ways FARE is trying to do that is by attempting to increase the amount of food and beverage products being sold by farmers and ranchers directly to independent restaurants. 

“The 12 percent decrease in the number of operations selling local food indicates that more work needs to be done to improve the livelihood of local producers and provide long-term sustainability for their success,” Baker said.

Direct farm sales included both fresh foods and processed or value-added products such as bottled milk, cheese, meat, wine and jams.

Nampa farmer Janie Burns, who sells grass-fed lamb at the Boise Farmers Market, said it’s probably a given that the amount of direct farm sales has risen since 2020 because of the supply chain disruptions that occurred during the COVID pandemic.

Anecdotally, “I think the COVID year certainly increased the number of direct sales,” she said. “You can talk to anybody selling direct and they will tell you their sales have increased since then.”

Purple Sage Farms sells specialty produce, culinary and medicinal herbs, leafy greens and flowers directly to consumers, restaurants and distributors through a variety of ways, including through farmers markets, home delivery and even Etsy.

“Our sales increased 20 percent this past year,” said Purple Sage Farms owner Tim Sommer.

He said he would sell everything his farm produces in the Boise area if he could and he suspects there are a lot of other farmers who have the same mindset.

“I think a lot of farms are like that,” Sommer said. “If we could, we would sell everything here in the Boise valley, and I think every farm wishes they could do that.”

When calculating direct farm sales of food, NASS defined local food as agricultural food products transported less than 400 miles or within the state it is produced.

Farm sales directly to consumers included sales through farmers markets, onsite farm stores, roadside stands, online sales, pick-your-own operations, mobile markets and Community Supported Agriculture arrangements.

Direct sales to retailers included supermarkets, supercenters, restaurants, caterers, food cooperatives and independent grocery stores.

Direct sales to institutions included schools, colleges, universities and hospitals.

Intermediary markets included intermediary businesses such as wholesalers, distributors and processors.

According to the NASS data, 147,307 farms sold food directly in 2020.

Fifty-two percent of direct-to-consumer sales in 2020 were fresh food products.

According to NASS, 57 percent of farms marketing food directly were located in metropolitan counties and these farms accounted for 62 percent of all direct food sales.

About 78 percent of farms selling food directly sold all of their directly-marketed food within 100 miles of the farm.