USDA: 'Local' and 'Organic' Closely Tied in America's Grocery Basket

Sep 21, 2015

Have you noticed your grocery store's organic section starting to spill over? It's not your imagination. The organic sector is raking in the dough.

The country's certified organic farms sold $5.5 billion in organic products in 2014. That's a 72 percent increase since 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2014 survey of organic agriculture shows. The goods that brought in the most cash were organic milk, eggs, chicken, lettuce and apples, according to the survey.

California remains a powerhouse in organic agriculture, nabbing the number one spot in sales. Here are the top 10 states for the value of organic products sold in 2014:

  1. California, $2.2 billion
  2. Washington, $514 million
  3. Pennsylvania, $313 million
  4. Oregon $237 million
  5. Wisconsin $200 million
  6. Texas $199 million
  7. New York $164 million
  8. Colorado $146 million
  9. Michigan $124 million
  10. Iowa $102 million

Because organic dairy is the single most valuable organic product on the market, a billion-dollar industry by itself, dairy-producing states dominate the top 10. Farmers in states like Pennsylvania, California and Wisconsin produce a large percentage of the country's milk supply.

More consumers are demanding organic options at retail outlets, and grocery stores are responding, says Dawn Thilmany, a Colorado State University economist who studies the organic food sector.

"As the concept of 'organic' becomes its own brand name sort of, we've seen more and more products adopt it as a way to differentiate themselves or to grab a niche of the consumer market," Thilmany says.

The data also show a significant crossover in foods marketed as both "organic" and "locally-grown." Eighty percent of all organic products in the U.S. traveled less than 500 miles from the farm to the point of sale.

The report also gives insight into some strange quirks within the National Organic Program. Fun fact: Colorado stands as the leader in certified organic Christmas tree acreage, with 27 acres devoted to the seasonal cut trees. And no, there are no federal numbers for the state's other, more controversial cash crop. Both because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level and because there's no clear definition of organic pot.