The tents are up. The vendors are ready, with proud displays of local produce, meats, baked goods, and other delights. Customers are out – shopping, visiting, and mingling. It’s a typical farmers market scene, robust with fresh, healthful, local food and lively connections between consumers and producers.
It must be the height of summer, right?
Think again. This typical farmers market scene might actually be happening in height of winter and in a cold weather state like Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, or New Jersey. There is even a winter farmers market at USDA Headquarters in Washington, DC.
A recent analysis of the USDA National Farmers Market Directory shows that there are 898 farmers markets operating across the country, a 17% jump since December, 2008. Moreover, winter farmers markets represent 14% of the total number of the nation’s operating farmers markets. And while many are in states where the weather might seem a little more cooperative like California (140 winter farmers markets) or Florida (45), the top state for winter market activity is actually New York, with a whopping 153 markets happening between November and March. Other cold weather states ranking near the top of winter farmers market locations are Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Michigan. States like Kentucky and North Carolina, with vast temperature fluctuations in wintertime, also claim spots on the top 10 state list.
Keeping farmers markets open longer is not only good for producers who can bring in more income for their families and their farms, and for consumers wanting fresh local food all year long, it is also good for the market community as a whole. Indeed, results from the 2006 USDA National Farmers Market Managers Survey, a survey of the business operations of nearly 1,300 farmers market managers, indicate that farmers markets open more than seven months out of the year have higher monthly sales than their strictly seasonal counterparts.
In 2010, the USDA National Farmers Market Directory counted a total of 6,132 operational farmers markets across the country, up 16% from the previous year. The Directory is based on self-reported information from farmers market managers, and is continually updated throughout the year. An annual count is released in early August in coordination with National Farmers Market Week. Data is available in searchable, map and spreadsheet form.
The USDA National Farmers Market Managers Survey is a more in-depth survey of market managers focusing on operational and structural elements of farmers market management and performance. Results from the 2006 National Farmers Market Manager Survey were published in 2009. A recent USDA National Farmers Market Managers Survey was completed in July, 2010. Initial results will be available in 2011.