WASHINGTON — Farmers markets continue strong nationwide growth, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The directory of farmers markets shows an increase of 9.6 percent over last year, according to U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan.
Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan are among the top 10 states for most growth. New York is second, with 647 reported markets, and California is first with 827 markets.
“Farmers markets are a critical ingredient to our nation’s food system,” Merrigan said. “These outlets provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also to the communities looking for fresh, healthy foods.”
The directory is published online at farmersmarkets.usda.gov. It identifies 7,864 farmers markets operating throughout the United States. The information collected is self-reported data provided voluntarily by farmers market managers through an annual outreach effort. Last year, the directory listed 7,175 markets.
The announcement came during National Farmers’ Market Week, which officially began Aug. 5. But for many consumers, every week is farmers market week — especially during the summer.
Financial help. One of the many organizations helping to encourage farmers market growth is Farm Credit Services, an ag lender.
“We see an emerging trend of products that are produced and sold on the farm or delivered directly to the consumer at local farmers markets,” said Colin Gordon, financial services officer with Farm Credit Mid-America in Wooster, Ohio. “There are more than (7,800) farmers markets operating throughout the United States compared to less than 3,000 a decade ago.”
At one time, local foods took a back seat to other methods of food production. But today, local foods producers are helping meet the demands of a choosier consumer, one that increasingly expects products to be ‘local’ as well as fresh and affordable.
A local farmers market is one way to creatively deliver what consumers are demanding, according to Farm Credit.
“Why wouldn’t you want to purchase your produce from a family with a name and a face,” said Gordon. “The overall experience of meeting the people who are growing your food is more real than shopping in a super mart.”
There are success stories across the nation, but Gordon says a local standout is Local Roots Market & Café, in downtown Wooster, Ohio.
Local Roots is a Producer/Consumer Cooperative that sells locally grown foods though consignment to the community, and has benefited from financial and technical support from both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Ohio Department of Agriculture.
USDA has taken several steps to help other small and mid-sized farmers. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), is outfitting more farmers markets with the ability to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), announcing $4 million dollars in available funding to equip farmers’ markets with wireless point-of-sale equipment. Currently, more than 2,500 farmers markets are using Electronic Benefit Transfer technology.
The department also announced the 2.0 version of its KYF Compass, a digital guide to USDA resources related to local and regional food systems. The updated version includes new data sets to help consumers locate local food resources, such as farmers markets, and plot them on an interactive map.
Geographic regions like the mid-Atlantic saw increases of nearly 16 percent. That includes the states of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
The Northeast saw a 14.4 percent increase, across the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
And the Southeast — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee — saw a 13.1 percent increase.
To learn more, visit farmersmarkets.usda.gov. Users can search for markets based on location, available products, and types of payment accepted, including participation in federal nutrition programs.
Directory features allow users to locate markets based on proximity to zip code, mapping directions and links to active farmers market websites. Customized data sets can also be created and exported for use by researchers and software application designers.