COLUMBUS — As the growth in farmers markets continues across the nation, Ohio producers can relish the fact they have a state farmers market association — even multiple associations — looking out for their interests.
“One of the best things we can do as market managers is share information,” said Adam Schroeder, president of Ohio Farmers Market Management Network. “There’s no need to recreate the wheel. We in Ohio just need to know each other a little more.”
Growers and market managers spent March 9-10 learning about market growth, food safety trends and running a better market at the annual Ohio Farmers Market Conference, held at the Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center on the campus of Ohio State University.
Guest speaker Bernadine Prince, Farmers Market Coalition president and co-director of FRESHFARM Markets, congratulated the state for its 270-plus farmers markets, and strong outreach efforts through OSU, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and various farmers market affiliations.
Nationwide, farmers markets continue an upward trend, climbing 17 percent in the past year, to more than 7,100 markets in 2011. Winter markets also are growing, she said, and were aided by the exceptionally mild winter.
Growth, however, can be good and bad, Prince said, highlighting the need for balance among producers and marketers, as well as their customers.
And, as markets grow, they need to remember the importance of food safety and meeting local and state standards.
“We need to plan for growth in farmers markets,” she said, adding “farmers markets need to be careful and need to be paying attention to issues of food safety.”
One issue on the minds of growers and marketers is the farm bill. Prince said it’s important farmers markets be included, and noted the services and goods they provide are similar to the grocery store — in some ways even better.
Speakers throughout the day talked of ways to improve food stamp redemption at farmers markets, including legislation like the Expanding Access to Farmers Markets Act, that would provide markets with wireless equipment to process Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, redemption.
The act, Senate Bill 1593, also encourages state agencies to partner and contract with nonprofits, to help grow farmers markets.
Prince said the nation needs its supermarkets, and its farmers markets.
“We need both and we need more grocery stores sourcing and selling local food, she said.
Eric Barrett, OSU Extension educator in Mahoning County, said farmers of all types need to respect each other, whether large or small, conventional or organic.
“We’re all in it to try to be a profitable business,” he said. “Try to be positive about everybody.”