Organic, natural and sustainably-produced foods, once sequestered to specialty aisles or health food stores, now share the shelf along with processed food in many supermarkets. For that, we can all be grateful. But for every step forward, the good food movement continues to face unique challenges and unforeseen resistance from the industrial food complex. Here are a few food trends we can expect to see, hear, read or eat more of in 2012.
1. Organic becomes the norm
According to the Organic Trade Association, 78 percent of U.S. families say they purchase organic foods, and 4 out of 10 families are buying more organic foods today than they were a year ago. U.S. sales of organic food and beverages grew 7.7% in 2010, and organic produce had the highest growth with an 11.8% increase over 2009. In 2012, we can expect to see U.S. consumer demand for organics push even further -- to as much as $30 billion overall -- and with that will come even more demand for certified organic cropland. A virtuous circle indeed!
2. Farmers markets: Not just for "foodies" any more
Where one used to have to travel to "the country" to find a fresh fruit or vegetable stand, modern farmers markets are now weekend necessities for a growing number of people. During the past few years, farmers markets have popped up in every region of the country -- and their popularity shows no sign of slowing. In 2011, the USDA counted 7,173 farmers markets, a 17% increase from 2010. Millions of consumers now make farmers markets part of their weekly routine, providing essential support to local farmers and food systems. Look for the total number of farmers markets nationwide to pass 8,000 before the year is up.
3. Leaner times, fatter children
Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Alarmingly, more than one-third of all children and adolescents in the U.S. were overweight or obese in 2008, with many destined to develop Type II diabetes. This is the cumulative result of decades of industrial food production and bad consumption habits -- problems that only worsen as our economy falters and families struggle to stretch food dollars ever further. While healthy eating habits start at home, schools also play a critical role in shaping how children think (or don't think) about nutrition. Sadly, most school lunches are laden with additives, sweeteners, and sodium. Without sufficient funding for our schools and a new vision for how to feed the next generation, childhood obesity will grow even worse in 2012.
4. Genetically modified crops fail to produce
Many consumers don't see the connection between what happens on the farm and the food they consume. Genetically modified (GMO) crops were billed as the future of agriculture - a breakthrough way to feed a growing, hungry world in the new millennium. But promises of increased yields, reduced pesticide use and more profits for growers have not materialized. 'Super weeds' and 'super pests' actually require farmers to increase spraying stronger toxic chemicals. Yields have dropped precipitously, leaving many farmers destitute. All this is done without consumers even having a chance to choose what goes into food we eat. Expect to see Big Ag claim they can fix it with even more GMOs. Sound appetizing?
5. Networked food hubs are our future
As the good food movement grows, so too do the economic opportunities for smaller, local farms and other food related businesses. One of the most dynamic developments in this process is the growth of food hubs. Food hubs allow farms to join together in an effort to quickly get more organic food to more people while returning better profits to growers. There are currently more than 100 food hubs across the nation, bringing needed logistical, management and distribution support to help farmers get products to retailers and consumers. With continued support from the USDA, we should expect to see the number of hubs climb to at least 120 in 2012.
Andrew Stout is the founder and CEO of Full Circle, an organic produce delivery company and farm based in Carnation, WA, and serving customers in Alaska, California, Idaho and Washington.