Americans Are Buying So Much Organic Food That We’re Running Out

September 24th, 2015

If you’re looking for proof that, increasingly, American consumers are growing tired of questionable, chemical-soaked food, look no further than the results of the 2014 organic survey, just released by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The data is pretty staggering, really:

  • 14,093 U.S. farms were producing and selling organic food in 2014.
  • $5.5 billion in organic products were purchased in 2014, an increase of 72 percent from 2008.
  • Organic milk made up $1.08 billion in sales in 2014, followed by organic eggs, broiler chickens, lettuce, and apples.
  • California is the nation’s leader in organic production, by a long-shot. California farms sold $2.2 billion (nearly half of the nation’s total) in organic products in 2014, but also accounted for 41 percent of all sales. Washington was the next highest state, with $515 million in organic sales.

These numbers tell us several things:

First, Americans are demanding cleaner food. We’ve tasted the cheaper, conventional alternative, and many of us are rejecting it. And we’re willing to pay a little more than conventional food prices for the peace of mind organic gives us. But guess what: As more of us demand cleaner food, farmers dedicate more of their fields to producing it, and the prices come down. We’re already seeing this happen.

We’re also buying more of our organic food locally. Almost half of the organic products sold in 2014—46 percent—were sold within 100 miles of where they were grown. Another 34 percent were sold within 500 miles.

But it’s not the farm stands that are keeping organic production afloat. Organic sales have been buoyed in recent years by big box stores dedicating much more shelf space to cleaner foods. The most vivid sign of this was Costco’s overtaking of Whole Foods Markets as America’s leading seller of organic groceries earlier this year.

The report reveals areas for improvement, of course. For one, the number of smaller organic farms declined slightly between 2008 and 2014, as did the total acreage of farmland dedicated to organic production. This is a particularly troublesome development because while demand for organic food has never been higher, production is declining. The answer may lie in the hands of brands responding to their customers’ demands for more organic offerings. McCormick, a leading maker of spices, announced this month that it will work to increase its organic spices from the current level of 10 percent to 80 percent by next year.

Organic food will only continue to increase in the U.S. if production matches demand, and demand will only increase if organic food becomes available throughout a number of retail streams—including online outlets like Thrive Market. With a little hard work, and some help from policy-makers and consumers, the next organic report will show even more gains.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Steve HoltSteve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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