Research focused on consumer behavior and attitudes toward organic, small-scale and locally produced foods can help organic producers understand consumer values, and in turn develop production and marketing approaches that match these values. This research on New England area food shoppers included focus groups, individual interviews, and a mail survey, all of which helped us to identify relationships between organic food buying and consumers' views of the food system. Comments made in focus groups and individual interviews revealed a frequent blending of the concepts of local, small-scale and organic, and their associated benefits. Subsequent mail surveys identified similar tendencies, although respondents made some distinctions among the reasons why they bought food from the three farm categories. When there were differences, respondents tended to attribute greater importance to reasons to buy from local farms, as compared to organic or small farms. The six questions for which the differences across farm categories had the lowest P-values were related to the environment, rural economy, rural landscape, farmers, product freshness and product taste. However, freshness, taste, nutritional quality and safety were some of the most compelling reasons that were attributed to all three farm categories. The challenge for the small, local and organic producer will be to continue to hold the consumer's attention as the general perception of organic farming shifts to a more industrialized model.
(Accepted July 03 2009)
(Online publication September 18 2009)
Key Words:organic food; consumers; local; industrialization; small farms