Organic farms are a novelty no longer. There are more than 14,000 of them in the U.S. these days. Nor are they insignificant in the food market. Last year, the top 10 states in organic sales collectively earned $5.5 billion, according to a Department of Agriculture census.
Overall sales of organics are up 72% since 2008, reflecting the market demand for chemical-free and non-industrial food, even when it’s more expensive. “The report also shows that organic producers are providing a wide variety of products to customers and are getting those items from farm to table more efficiently,” says Joseph Reilly, head of USDA’s agricultural statistics division.
No prizes for guessing which state had the most sales. That would be California, which had 41% overall, or four times the number ($2.2 billion) as the next nearest–Washington ($515 million). Wisconsin has the second most organic farms (1,228) followed by New York (917).
Milk accounted for most sales ($1.08 billion), followed by eggs ($420 million), chickens ($372 million), lettuce ($264 million), and apples ($250 million). Three-quarters of sales were through wholesalers selling on to retailers; only 8% of sales were direct to consumers, for example through farmers’ markets or box deliveries. But almost half of all organic farms sell at least some products without a middleman.
Whether it’s worth paying a premium for organic food is a personal choice. But it’s surely healthy, economically as much as anything, to have a greater diversity of food makers out there.