Friday, August 03, 2012

USDA: Farmers Markets Listed In US Increase By Almost Ten Percent

Department updates National Farmers Market Directory; Merrigan urges consumers to support local farmers and ranchers during drought...
Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan on Friday kicked off USDA's National Farmer's Market week by unveiling an update to the National Farmers Market Directory. There are now 7,864 markets listed for 2012, up from the 7,175 markets listed in 2011, a 9.6% increase over last year. Ten states have 49% of the markets listed.

"Close to 10 percent is amazing growth," Merrigan said during a conference call. She credited the uptick in part to consumers' nostalgia for life on the land. Local food and fiber, she said, is the top trend the agency is monitoring.

"I believe there is a yearning in this country for people to reconnect with farmers, with agriculture," Merrigan said. "99 percent of us do not hail from the farm or ranch, and yet we have a sense--heightened by the drought and the headlines across the country--that everything that goes on on our working lands is very important. People are craving that re-connection."

The online Directory offers the public a zip code search engine to find their local Farmers Markets. Owners and managers voluntarily send information to the USDA to be listed in the Directory, and Merrigan said she believes there are many more across the nation that remain uncounted. Perhaps that's why Berry's Produce in Mechanicsville, Virginia, where President Obama purchased fresh local tomatoes on July 14, is not listed in the Directory (the President is in action at Berry's in the photo at top).

"Sometimes Farmers Markets are like spontaneous combustion," Merrigan said. "They just spring up."
The markets are crucial to keeping local dollars in local economies, Merrigan said, especially during the drought, which now impacts most of the US.

“I’m hoping that consumers across the countryside understand now more than ever it’s important to support your farmer,” Merrigan said. “I believe this drought, albeit very severe and tough for producers, is not going to change the trajectory we’re on with farmers markets because people want to buy local.”

Top Ten states, and regional growth...

The Directory's list of Top Ten states for most Farmers Markets listed per state ranks California at #1 with 827 markets, New York at #2 with 647 markets, and Massachusetts at #3 with 313 markets. Michigan is at #4 with 311 markets, Wisconsin at #5 with 298 markets, Illinois at #6 with 292 markets, Ohio at #7 with 264 markets, Pennsylvania at #8 with 254 markets, Virginia and Iowa tied at #9 with 227 markets and North Carolina at #10 with 202 markets.

Geographic regions of the mid-Atlantic, the Northeast and the Southeast saw the most growth in listings. Those regions reported 15.8, 14.4 and 13.1 percent more markets, respectively.

SNAP at Farmers markets...

Merrigan said she believes that by the end of 2012, close to two-thirds of all Farmers Markets across the US will be able to accept EBT cards from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka Food Stamps). USDA's Food and Nutrition Service recently announced $4 million in grants to outfit Farmers Markets with EBT card readers and other technology. Currently, more than 2,500 markets can accept EBT.

"One of the things we have focused on during the last year is ensuring that people can gain access to the fresh produce that these markets feature," Merrigan said. "Farmers Markets can be a great strategy, especially in rural areas, where there is not a brick and mortar grocery store."

She pointed to First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign as an important way the government is promoting increased food access and affordability.

Merrigan closed by noting that Farmers Markets are not only an important way to keep money in local economies, but they also encourage beginning farmers.

“We need to grow the number of farmers in this country with the aging of the American farmer,” Merrigan said.

“One way to do that is to make sure we have stepping stones into agriculture and the farmers market is one way to do that.”

National Farmers Market Week is Sunday, Aug. 5 through Saturday, Aug. 11. USDA officials will visit markets around the country to honor growers and commemorate their work. Follow @USDA and @USDA_AMS on Twitter for updates, and use the hashtags #farmmktwk and #KYF2.

Check out USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, a dynamic online tool that offers geospatial maps, graphs, and video stories about local food production across the nation.

*Photo by Christopher Dilts/Obama For America