SALT LAKE CITY —Utah is bucking a national trend that shows interest in locally produced foods beginning to taper off, with the value of sales dropping and the number of farms participating growing at just modest amounts.
Here, representatives of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food say the numbers tell a far more dramatic story of phenomenal interest, with the number of farms and the amount of revenue generated making strong gains.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture — the latest numbers available — details that the number of farms in Utah with direct-to-consumer sales increased from 1,584 in 2007 to 1,875 in 2012, or 18.4 percent. At the same time, value of those sales rose nearly 58 percent, leaping from $10.1 million to $15.9 million.
"I love this local movement," said LuAnn Adams, Utah's commissioner over agriculture and food. "Nationally, it has rather stagnated, but we don't see that here. It is catching on more and more in Utah."
Those direct-to-consumer sales in the form of farmer markets have become wildly popular over the years, even if sales have started to plateau.
In a January report to Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted that there were 8,268 farmers' markets in operation, a 180 percent increase since 2006. As parents and nutritionists worry more about children's diets, the nod toward locally produced, wholesome food has also taken off. Across the country, some 4,322 school districts receive farm fresh food, marking a 430 percent increase since 2006.
Aside from farmers' markets – of which about a dozen are held along the Wasatch Front — the department helps to connect farmers and consumers via community supported agriculture.
CSA harvest share programs link consumers with farmers in a cooperative arrangement in which members pay a "fee" at the beginning of the growing season as a way to share startup costs and then each week, they receive a portion of the farm's harvest throughout the growing season.
The department also promotes "Utah's Own," which showcases all manner of locally produced products — including humus, honey, eggs, salsa and even toffee, with information on where to purchase the products.
"We are trying to get more markets opened up, more and more grocery stores involved, and more restaurant opportunities," Adams said.
This year, the agency is celebrating National Agriculture Day on Wednesday by encouraging Utah's farmers and ranchers to take a snapshot on their ranch or farm, on that day, to document a "day in the life of agriculture."
"This year we want to celebrate and document the hard work that our Utah family farms and ranches perform each day,” Adams said. “I know it is hard work growing our food. But I hope our farmers and ranchers can take a quick timeout to capture a glimpse of what they do on this special day."
The photos will be assembled in an online album to be published later in the year. The photos will also be considered for reproduction and display in the department’s main office building in Salt Lake City. Photos should be high resolution quality in JPG format.
Participants can take as many photos as they would like on Wednesday, but only one photo can be submitted.
The photos can be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org/ If the file is too large, send via Drop Box. If you cannot email the photo, send it to the agency on a disk, thumb-drive, or hard copy. The mailing address is: Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, Day in the Life, P.O. Box 146500, Salt Lake City, UT, 84114.
Adams said every usable photo will be included in the album, since the event is not a contest. Photo ideas include but are not limited to: milking cows, moving equipment, any aspect of calving or lambing, any aspect of life with livestock, mechanical repair, family members and activities on the farm, children helping out, poultry, farm life, production agriculture, small farm agriculture, soil preparation, planting, irrigation, roadside fruit/vegetable stands, farmers markets, and etc. Any photo during the 24 hours of March 18 is eligible.
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