A Visual Guide to USDA Local Food Survey Results

      Posted On: February 22, 2017

By Marian Weaver, FMC Program Manager | marian@farmersmarketcoalition.org

Hi everyone, I’m Marian Weaver, the new Metrics Program Manager for FMC. I come from a background of database analytics and business intelligence, and my main projects will be focused on Farmers Market Metrics and anything else data-oriented. My posts will have a more interactive format than we usually post here; I believe that data represented visually allows you to better digest information and make it relatable to your life. I hope you enjoy my first post and look forward to your feedback!

Late last year, the USDA released their first ever Local Food Marketing Survey as a follow up to the 2012 USDA Agriculture Census. FMC worked closely with the USDA to craft questions that would allow us to gain insights on Farmers Market trends, and how we compare with other methods of local food consumption. A lack of an adequate sample size meant that we weren’t able to see state level farmers market data; nevertheless, important trends are able to be viewed regionally. Take a look and let us know what you think of this new format of information sharing!

The dashboard below presents all farms that defined themselves as participating in “Direct to Consumer Marketing.” It shows the number of farmers, their sales, and the representative percent of the total of those values. The data is broken down by region as well as marketing channel. If you click here to view an interactive map of the dashboard, you can move your mouse around the dashboard to quickly see corresponding detail and summary information.

The South East region had the highest number of respondents using FM as a direct marketing channel (9,966), and the North East region had the highest farmers market sales ($208m). Do these results seem in line with your experience?

The next dashboard shows the distance the farmer drives to sell his goods. It is shown in terms of number of farmers on the left, and the percentage of farmers on the right. Of the 41,098 respondents who said their largest grossing site was a farmers market, 25,255 of them said the distance they travelled was less than 20 miles. That group of 25,255 represents 61% of farmers market respondents. Comparatively, you can see that of the 68% (10,125) farmers said that an Off-Site Store or Stand that required under 20 miles of travel was their largest grossing site.

A note about this data; the survey did not explicitly define an “Off-Site Stand or Store,” so there is some ambiguity inherent in the results. Additionally, On-Site Stands were not included in this dataset because they were considered to be zero miles from the farm.  Caveats aside, it’s encouraging to remember that conventional food travels almost 3,000 miles on average, so local food is still well ahead of the competition in that sense.

Click here to view an interactive map of the dashboard above.

While Farmers Markets have the enviable lead in terms of volume of farmers, the distribution of miles is very similar between all three segments. This leaves us vulnerable to losing one of our key mantras in farmers markets; that your food travels fewer miles. How else can we differentiate ourselves from these new businesses? Are we marketing to those points?

This trend is also demonstrated in the matrix below. This shows how many farmers sell their food at each channel. For instance, of respondents that sold at a farmers market, 42% of them used farmers markets as their only means for selling. Farmers Markets, On-Site Farm Stands and Other Markets are the primary choices for farmers who choose to market in just one manner. To be competitive with these other channels, we will need to better understand them as well as ourselves, and how we market ourselves. The ambiguity of “Other Markets” is something that FMC will seek to define in further conversation with the USDA, as the 73% figures represents 28,934 Farmers.

Click here to view an inactive map of the dashboard above.

The Local Food Marketing Survey is a great step toward understanding how farmers fit in the larger economy, but we can help make it better by improving definitions, and increasing the number of respondents. Encourage all your farmers to sign up for the USDA census email, so they can be notified when the next survey comes out. The link to that page can be found here. In order to be eligible, a farm must’ve sold at least $1,000 of agricultural products for the census year.

Let us know your thoughts on the data presented here; is this representative of your experiences? What more would you like to see presented on this format? Tell me: marian@farmersmarketcoalition.org