Do Affluent Urban Consumers Drive Direct Food Sales in the Northeast United States? A Three-part Analysis
The last century has seen steady decline in the number of farms and ever-worsening concentration of economic power in the food system. In more recent decades, agricultural sales directly to consumers have grown, raising questions about the role of economic privilege and its spatial distribution in supporting direct marketing. We address this question in a three-part analysis of 216 counties in nine Northeast states. First, we compare four direct-sales indicators and their common covariates among county types defined by metropolitan status and adjacency to metro/nonmetro borders. Second, we map four direct-sales variables over these county types. Third, we construct panel regression models with county as a fixed-effect in order to examine the influence of county-level household income on direct agricultural sales while controlling for other county-level variables shown to have an influence: population, vegetable production, farm size, and number of farms. Together, these three perspectives—bivariate, spatial, and multivariate—show that economic privilege is a factor in direct food sales, but not necessarily a driver. The variability across the region and the different patterns associated with different direct-marketing variables indicate that both researchers and practitioners would benefit from strategies sensitive to context, contingency, and change over time.
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