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The Pandemic Has Given Organics a Big Boost—But Most Profits Aren’t Flowing To Small Producers

The nationwide shelter-in-place orders have led to a surge in purchases of certified USDA Organic foods, with much of the growth coming from industrial-scale farms.

When COVID-19 forced communications consultant Kyle Freund and his wife to work from home this spring, the Madison, Wisconsin couple and their 5-year-old daughter began seeking out organic produce from small local farms. They stopped patronizing large supermarkets, shopped only at the co-op, and subscribed to a community supported agriculture (CSA) program through a nearby farm.

“It’s become a priority for us, knowing where our food comes from,” said Freund.

He’s not the only one. For all the disruptions it has caused, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a boon to organic food sales, with sales increasing in double digits and outpacing conventional produce sales—a phenomenon that has been touted by the organic industry.

But the image of Americans flocking to buy organic produce at farmers’ markets and through CSA programs is somewhat misleading when it comes to the growth of organics, according to some food advocates. Direct-to-consumer organic produce sales, which have skyrocketed during the pandemic, still account for a very small percentage of overall organic sales. Instead, far from the ideal of small family operations feeding local communities, much of the recent growth has come from industrial-scale farms.

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