Consumer trends such as personal electronics technology, women’s fashion or even popular vegetable varieties start with a good product idea that is amplified by the buzz of media, advertising, and social networks.

Trends that stick create reliable, mature markets that are engines of economic demand, stimulating additional new products and market opportunities.

Many farmers and ranchers have benefitted from the trend in local foods, finding ways to sell direct-to-retail and capture a higher profit margin. Young, beginning and small farmers in particular have been able to enter into farming at the smaller scale of direct-to-consumer sales in the local foods marketplace, like farmers’ markets, roadside stands and through community supported agriculture (CSAs).

If the evolution of this trend in consumer demand for farm products stopped at local farmers’ markets, it would be easy to dismiss. However, the impact of this trend — if recognized, described, and labeled properly — shows that it is economically significant, commonly practiced and geographically widespread.

None would argue that $7 billion in sales of cotton and rice are insignificant, yet in the same Ag Census year of 2007, organic, direct-to-retail and local foods sales conservatively added up to $8 billion.

Perhaps those of us in agriculture missed that comparison because it is so difficult to extract such statistics from USDA data sources, which are based on counting commodity products rather than following marketing channels.

If the direct-to-consumer marketing channel were counted as if it were a commodity product, then it would be the fifth most common farm activity by number of farms.