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Mass. named a leader in farm-to-consumer sales

  • Tomatoes for sale at the Atlas Farm Store in South Deerfield. RECORDER FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Recorder file photo/ Paul FranzDave Lewis buys some eggplant and peppers from Maria Topitzer of the Lyonsville Farm in Colrain at the Farmers Market in Greenfield.



For the Gazette
Monday, January 09, 2017

A recent federal survey shows Massachusetts as a leader in sales of food products sold directly by farmers to consumers.

The state 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, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2015 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey says.

Other top states include California, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, making all the more significant the ranking of Massachusetts, which is 47th among all states in total cash receipts for farms.

In fact, when direct-to-consumer sales are measured against total farm sales, the Bay State leads the nation, according to Winton Pitcoff, director of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative.

The collaborative works to promote, monitor and facilitate implementation of the 2015 Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan.

“What’s exciting to me is their findings that show that Massachusetts is way ahead on this stuff,” Pitcoff said. He credits the “ingenuity and creativity of Massachusetts farmers” in figuring out how to reach out to customers directly and make those sales.

It also reflects the dedication of organizations like Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture in Deerfield, which launched one of the nation’s first buy-local education campaigns 18 years ago.

“We at CISA are not surprised that Massachusetts is a national leader in farmers selling food directly to their neighbors,” said Philip Korman, CISA executive director. “First, our farmers are highly skilled and we are blessed with some of the best soils in the nation. Second, our communities have a deep respect for our farmers and like to buy local whenever possible for the quality and the impact on our local economy and environment.”

Since the launch of CISA’s Local Hero Program, he said, the organization has been inspiring residents to buy from more than 270 local farmers.

“The direct sales business model can help older farms diversify their sales and often enables a beginning farm to launch their business,” Korman said. “Farmers are able to keep every penny of their sales when they sell direct through farmers markets, CSA farm shares and farm stands.”

Together, the nine “buy local organizations” in the state support local farms and help them let their neighbors know what’s grown in their area and where to buy it, Korman said.

The survey ranked Massachusetts eighth among states based on total direct farm sales, with $229 million in sales from farms directly to institutions, retailers, local distributors and consumers.

These are sales among a total of 2,426 Massachusetts farms combined, with $75 million representing value-added products like meats, eggs, preserved fruits and vegetables, and dairy products, such as cheese and butter.

“One of the things that’s been difficult over the years is to capture how much Massachusetts food actually ends up in Massachusetts mouths,” Pitcoff said.

Direct farm sales are critical to farm sustainability, Pitcoff said, “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 project 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. 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.