A new study of consumers has found farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture programs that sell fresh, locally produced foods tend to attract a "privileged" class of shoppers.
The findings, presented by Indiana University researchers at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in San Francisco this week, suggest more needs to be done to move local, fresh, and healthy foods to lower-income consumers.
"Our findings present a need for broadening local food opportunities beyond the privileged, higher-income consumer, through alternative payment plans and strategic efforts that make fresh foods accessible to a diversity of people," said James Farmer, a researcher with the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington.
The study focused on buyers’ habits related to 180 Indiana farmer's markets and CSAs — cooperative farming programs where consumers typically pay an upfront fee, usually $250 to $700, in exchange for a routine allotment of a farm's fresh produce, eggs, meat, dairy, and other products.
Farmer noted such operations have increased dramatically over the past two decades, with the number of farmer's markets growing by 450 percent since 1994 and more than 12,500 CSAs now operating across the U.S. Local foods are more often produced using sustainable farming practices that eliminate or decrease the use of pesticides and chemicals typically used in conventionally produced farm products.
"When you consider freshness as an important value for consumers, hands down local foods that are distributed directly from the farmer to the consumer get from the field to the table in a much shorter period of time," Farmer said. "Also, when you shop at a chain grocery store, the money you spend quickly leaves the local economy, as opposed to being spent several times over within one's own town or city."
Farmer noted many farmer's markets and CSAs accept alternative payments — including WIC Program vouchers, government assistance, and payment installment plans — but more could be done to expand the access to such programs for less-affluent people.