The most exciting aspect of the new USDA report on the local food and farm economy [PDF] isn’t the sizable $4.8 billion in annual sales of local food it says occurred in 2008. It’s the fact that, as the AP noted, the local food economy is poised to grow as fast as even the most optimistic estimates. The way things are trending, local food sales in 2011 could pass $7 billion — a number that local food boosters (as well as the USDA itself [PDF]) threw around a few years back. That figure would represent an impressive 15 percent annual increase since 2008, and it’s especially impressive given that we’re still in the teeth of the Great Recession.
But that’s not the only interesting tidbit from the report; it also shows that the local food movement has flipped the current agricultural economy on its head. Small farms are king — at least in terms of the number participating — while large farms are minimally involved.
Of course, despite what Big Ag wants you to think, the vast majority of large farms don’t actually grow food. They grow sweeteners, additives, animal feed, fuel, and fiber –or what I like to call Everything But Food. On the other hand, the local food economy is predominantly about selling fruit and vegetables — corn, soy, and cotton growers need not apply.