We hope that the dashboard will be a useful tool for anyone who chooses to look at it, including those who are not food systems “experts.” For those who would like more context, we have developed these introductory resources. Data and materials here are about the whole New England food system (not just the part related to institutions).

This page provides background about food production, processing, and distribution in our region. It uses data from the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture and other sources to show the current agricultural landscape in New England, and how this landscape has been changing over time.

Photo courtesy of Colby College

Photo courtesy of Colby College


Fishing and seafood are an important part of the New England food landscape, both economically and culturally. Unfortunately, fisheries are under threat from climate change, over-harvesting, and pollution – including nutrient and pesticide runoff from agriculture. As with other food systems challenges, creating a sustainable seafood industry will require varied and complementary approaches.

Job Impact of Fishing Industry

With 473 miles of coastline, a long history of fishing communities, and the continued popularity of seafood, fishing remains an important part of the New England food system. For the past 16 years, New England has been home to the highest value fishing port in the United States in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 2015, the fishing industry accounted for nearly 140,000 jobs across the region. As shown in the graph below, retail accounts for 53.2% of fishing industry jobs, followed by commercial harvesters at 22.6%.

Data visualization coming soon!

Value of Key Species

Landings data indicate the total price that fishermen and women are paid for their catch of “key species.” Selected by NOAA, key species are those that have “economic and/or historical significance to a state or region.” In New England, these species are: American lobster, Atlantic herring, Atlantic mackerel, bluefin tuna, cod and haddock, flounders, goosefish, quahog clams, sea scallops, and squid. By far, lobster and sea scallops account for the highest landed value in New England.

Data visualization coming soon!



Change in the Number of Farms in New England States from 1910 to 2012

Over the last century, the number of farms has decreased drastically across the region, especially between 1945 and 1969. Causes of farmland loss include urbanization, poor land use planning, and the challenging economic situation that farmers face in trying to make a living off the land.

Source: USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture

Change in Acres in Agriculture in New England States from 1982 to 2012

American Farmland Trust estimates that we lose about 40 acres of farmland across America every hour. Over the last few decades, New England states have been working hard to maintain the acres they have remaining in farmland. Preservation programs and practices have become more widespread and an increasing interest in “eating local” has contributed to all states actually increasing the acres they have in farmland over the last ten years.

Source: USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture

Market Value of New England Agricultural Production

Although New England is a small region geographically and contributes less than one percent of the total value of national agricultural market value, agriculture is an important part of New England’s economy. Between crops and animal production, nearly $3 billion in regional agricultural products are sold each year. The bar chart below shows regional sales on the leftmost bar, followed by individual state sales.

Source: USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture

Composition of New England's Agricultural Production

New England produces a variety of agricultural products. Across the region, milk, nursery products (greenhouse, floriculture, and sod), and vegetables make up over 60 percent of all product. On the state level, there are significant differences. You can scroll over the state charts below the bar chart to reveal how much each state produces by category.

Source: USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture

Average Size of Farm & Average Farm Income

In New England, the average farm size is quite small, ranging from just over 50 acres in Rhode Island to over 175 acres in Maine. This map shows average farm size by state. Average farm income is also viewable by scrolling over each state

Source: USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture

Direct Sales in New England

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) set out to better understand local food markets in the U.S. by conducting a Local Food Marketing Practices Survey. The results were released in late 2016, showing that agricultural producers across the United States are selling billions of dollars worth of product to direct markets.These direct markets include direct-to-institution, direct-to-consumer (e.g., farmers markets), direct-to-retailer, and direct-to-intermediary businesses (including food distributors, food hubs, and food processors who sell locally branded products

Across the New England states with available data, nearly $736 million in direct sales were reported by 9,928 operations. Operators in Vermont and Massachusetts made $229 million and $250 million in direct sales respectively, earning them a spot on the top 10 list of states in direct sales nationwide.

Direct Sales Bar Chart.png

Source: USDA Local Foods Marketing Practices Survey. State-level data is not available for Rhode Island.

New England Direct to Consumer Produce Sales

New England farmers sell food direct to consumers through farmers markets, roadside stands, pick-your-own operations, community supported agriculture (CSA) arrangements, and other efforts. The first chart below shows the percentage of total farms engaging in direct to consumer sales by state. The second set of charts the percentage of  total farms engaging in particular types of direct to consumer sales by state, including farm stand, farmers markets, pick-your-own, CSA, mail order/Internet, and "other." The third pair of charts shows the percentage of total farms engaging in other types of sales, specifically 'direct to retail' and 'wholesale' markets. 

Source: USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture State Summary Highlights Report