In this last Sunday’s New York Times, there was a fascinating set of maps that showed the geographic location of organic farms across the United States. The article noted that organic vegetables now account fro five percent of all vegetables sales.
This increase is interesting. But what I find much more interesting is that the concentration of organic farms in the Northwest and Northwest, and in the states adjacent to the Great Lakes, indicates that, in these areas, there are large numbers of small organic farms that are selling produce directly to consumers. To me this represents a growing desire for face-to-face transactions, and the rejection of produce products from anonymous locales and sources. This is not necessarily a safety issue, but it is most certainly a trust issue. And one can hardly believe that the repeated outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to produce over the last several years has done much to destroy the trust relationship with the American public.
The other thing that is fascinating about these maps is how the geographic concentration of organic farms roughly correlates to household income in the United States. Look at this map from the U.S. Census Bureau.
So, for now at least, it does certainly seem that the market for organic produce is one restricted to higher-income households. This is probably both a good and bad thing (depending on your perspective and role in the marketplace). Higher prices definitely support the growth of organic farms in the absence of support from the government. (This is in huge contrast to the substantial–arguably, too substantial–support that Big Ag gets from the government.) But on the other hand, if large portions of the populace are priced out of the organic produce market it is hard to see how organic farming will be able to grow much more without creating downward price pressure because of potential over-supply. For the time being though, I think the proliferation of organic farming is a great thing.