Local Food :: Production and Consumption :: Building a Local Food Economy :: Organic Agriculture

Local Food Production and Consumption in the Triangle

What is this?

Food production data per county represent the value of agricultural products produced and marketed directly to individuals through roadside stands and 'pick-your-own' sites; farmers' markets; Community Supported Agriculture programs; grocery stores and other wholesaling methods; public and private institutions; community-based organizations; and, restaurants preparing meals from locally sourced, sustainably grown food. Acres of harvested crops in the Triangle are an important indicator of the size and health of our local foodshed and its economic impact on our state. The trend over time indicates an increase or decrease in the number of acres harvested. Direct marketing sales of agricultural products provide an indirect measure of the market size of the local food movement in the Triangle.

Why is this important?

The demand for fresh locally sourced food is outstripping supply, which keeps prices high, but if we can get more farmers producing for the local market, there is the potential we could do it more efficiently and make it more accessible. Because prices tend to be higher, many low-income and rural communities lack access to sustainably produced food or organic alternatives, and some urban and rural populations experience “food deserts” where little or no fresh food is even available.

What does this measure show?

Table 1.Direct Sales of Locally Harvested Crops.Source: National Agricultural Statistical Survey (2008)Farm2Fork.jpg
15-year Growth

Thousands (inflation adjusted to 2010 dollars)


There is an increasing trend in direct sales growth in the Triangle, 387% since 1992 (Table 1). Direct sales of agricultural products are strongest in Chatham and Orange Counties, both having local food sales greater than $600,000.

Agricultural products sold directly into our communities are a small fraction of state and national wholesale markets; however, this sector of the food marketing system is growing rapidly. In the Triangle's foodshed, agricultural products for direct sale has increased 15 percent annually from 1992 to 2007.

Limitations and Further Research

Although the value of agricultural products sold directly to individuals is not necessarily an indicator of the market size for local food consumption, we assume that local food consumption is proportional to local food sales. Despite current efforts to measure the scope of the local food movement, to the best of our knowledge this is one of the few measures that currently provides insight to the local food economy in the Triangle.

The U.S. Food Market Estimator is a new tool designed to help users determine the potential demand, by county in the United States, for more than 200 different food items. This is an expansive tool, using data collected each year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS). Funded, reviewed and published by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. Developed and hosted by the Center for Transportation Research and Education at ISU.The tool provides information for 204 food products, including various dairy and meat products, fruit, vegetables and grains. Users select how they want results to be shown: by number of servings, pounds produced, truckloads transported, even cubic feet of warehouse space needed to store a particular product. Products can be shown individually, or as groups of products at key stages of the food supply chain. Results can be adjusted to reflect a particular market share, or the unit of measure changed from pounds to other units in order to suit a variety of needs such as number of servings, truckloads per day or cubic feet of warehousing needed each week.

Authors: Kevin Bigsby and Aimee Schmidt, NCSU (CNR) graduate students :: 2010.05.06

Reviewers: Tandy Jones, TLC; Dr. Nancy Creamer, NCSU CEFS Director

Technical Notes

The National Agricultural Statistical Survey gathered the 2002 and 2007 agricultural census data from a survey of farmers, and the Census Bureau provided the 1992 and 1997 figures. This leads to a potential source of error when comparing the two sources because The National Agricultural Statistical Survey values correct for small farms when sampling but Census Bureau did not. Data and metadata are available here: DirectSalesByCounty_adjusted.xlsx