Farmer’s Markets are in the news…
As an avid food gardener and Extension Master Gardener Volunteer, I love to visit and explore Farmer’s Markets. I always find something new there! I posted a Wordless Wednesday: The Bounty of Summer – Farmer’s Markets, and also About Master Gardener Programs and Farmer’s Markets – Do You Volunteer?
Then I discovered that August 5th to 11th was National Farmer’s Market Week as proclaimed by Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture. This was the thirteenth annual National Farmer’s Week and all across the country people celebrated fresh, local food and the farmer’s markets that make them available. Farmers’ markets have become an essential part of the local food system, increasing access to nutritious foods, educating consumers and bringing communities together through the many events held at local Farmer’s Markets.
Farmer’s Markets Experiencing Record Growth…
I visited my first Farmer’s Market in the 1980s in Grass Valley, CA. Their Farmer’s Market was held in the Nevada County Fairground’s parking lot shaded by towering pines. The market was only two rows of pick-up trucks where farmers sold their fruits and vegetables out of the back of trucks but I remember the air of festivity and bustling purpose as people lined up in front of their favorite vendors or for a particular crop in season – like the long line in front of the tomato man. Although it was only a dirt parking lot, the space was filled with happy noisy people as we shopped for our families, visited with friends and neighbors and chatted with farmers. Since then, the popularity of farmers’ markets has grown steadily. In a report released this August, the Agriculture Deputy Secretary, Kathleen Merrigan, announced a 9.6% increase in Farmer’s Market Directory listings for 2012. Last year (2011) more than 1,000 new farmers’ markets were reported across the country – a whopping 17% growth. The Directory now lists over 7,800 farmers’ markets operating in the US.
Top 10 States for Farmer’s Markets…The states that top the charts for the number of Farmer’s Markets listed in the USDA Directory were: California (827 markets), New York (647 markets), Massachusetts (313 markets), Michigan (311 markets), Wisconsin (298 markets), Illinois (292 markets), Ohio (264 markets), Pennsylvania (254 markets), Virginia and Iowa (tied with 227 markets) and North Carolina (202 markets). Together these states account for 49% of the farmers markets listed the directory.
With over 46 million people on food assistance, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program), has made farmers’ markets accessible to their recipients too. In 2011, more than $11.7 million in SNAP benefits were redeemed in one year, a 52% increase! This means more needy families have access to fresh, local produce than ever before.
Farmer’s Markets are a Dynamic Part of Local Economies…
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition says the surge in consumer demand for organically-produced food and agricultural products from local and regional markets is an important incentive for the growth of farmer’s markets.
Bernadine Prince, President of the Farmers Market Coalition said, “Farmers markets are the ultimate green sector of the economy. They are stand-out successes in spurring sustainable economic development.” She also said that farmers’ markets act as small farm incubators, stimulate entrepreneurship and nourish both rural and urban economies.
So in addition to being purveyors of fresh cuisine, Farmer’s Markets are also a significant part of the local economy, bringing produce to residents and restaurants alike, offering specialty varieties that can’t be found in local grocery stores. Here in North Carolina we also have a 10% program which encourages people to spend 10 % of their food dollars locally – maybe at a farmer’s market or roadside vegetable stand.
Fresh Discoveries at Farmer’s Markets…
As an Extension Master Gardener who likes to grow some of my own vegetables, I enjoy trying some of the new varieties found at the Farmer’s Market. Last year I discovered Cubanelle peppers (sweet peppers). They were outstanding – they took the heat and humidity, lack of water and insects and still produced so heavily that I had to prop the plants up - that’s my kind of vegetable! This year I discovered Armenian cucumbers. Last fall I learned from a grower how to use or cook giant sweet potatoes – the ones that had grown to 8 pounds or more. There’s always something new to learn or be discovered at the Farmer’s Market. That’s why Farmer’s Markets are not only places where Extension Master Gardener’s can help the public, but they can also be places for us to make new discoveries and new connections.
What are some of your favorite Farmer’s Market discoveries?
by Connie Schultz, Extension Master Gardener/Composter (Cornell ‘95) currently serving in Johnston County, NC