Photo by Rachael Brugger
With a national push toward healthier eating, the number of farmers’ markets in the U.S. continues to grow, reaching 7,800 markets in 2012.
This weekend wraps up National Farmers Market Week, a time of celebration denoted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to recognize America’s small-scale farmers who are contributing to a fresh and healthy food system.
Since 2000, the number of farmers’ markets has grown approximately 170 percent, from 2,863 markets in 2000 to more than 7,800 in 2012, reflecting the nation’s effort toward healthier eating.
“Farmers’ markets across the country offer consumers affordable, convenient and healthful products sold directly from the farm in their freshest possible state, increasing consumer access to fresh fruits and vegetables and thus promoting child health and potentially reducing childhood obesity,” Vilsack says.
In fact, researchers at East Carolina University found that proximity to farmers’ markets was associated with lower body mass index among North Carolina youth, while higher density of fast-food and pizza venues was associated with higher BMI.
But it’s not only consumers who are benefitting from the rising number of farmers’ markets. According to a 2011 PolicyLink report, small-scale farmers who market their produce at farmers’ markets generally receive a 200 to 250 percent higher return than what they would receive from wholesalers. This is good news, as high competition from industrialized agriculture continues to be a major hurdle for many local producers.
Farmers’ markets across the U.S. recognize that small-scale farmers often have limited time to market their wares, so many are offering services equipping vendors to get the most out of the face-to-face time they receive at markets. Here is a selection of what is available:
- Delaware’s Historic Lewes Farmers’ Market in Lewes, Del., provides scholarships for its farmers to attend conferences to learn sustainable agriculture methods that help protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Attending these conferences, according to HLFM scholarship recipient Lisa Garfield, “gives us the opportunity to learn new skills and news ways to become more efficient.”
- The Webb City Farmers’ Market in Missouri runs a mentoring program that partners its most experienced growers as well as state extension horticulturists with newer farmers who want to improve quality and production practices. “Last week, our inspection team visited three farms and saw, for the first time, drip irrigation in action on those farms,” market manager Eileen Nichols says. “Before starting the mentoring program, they either had no water in the fields or were trying to use small sprinklers.”
- The Morgantown Farmers’ Market in West Virginia, governed by the local growers themselves, requires that all products sold at the market are grown within 50 miles, ensuring that customers are truly supporting local farm families.
- During the market season, the Nowata County Farmers’ Market offers workshops on topics like raising poultry and diversifying farm product lines, which provide business-development assistance to producers in the community.