As the weekend approaches, there are things we all look forward to – sleeping in late, spending time with family, splashing in the neighborhood pool, and picnics with friends. For me, I look forward to visiting my local farmers market. It is a time for me and my urban-raised children to connect with local farmers and thank them for their hard work in providing the food we eat every day. In the DC metro region, it’s the height of tomato season here. I find strange and luscious heirloom tomato varieties in the farmers market that I never see in my grocery store. Always trying to expand my children’s palate, the farmers market provides a great place to taste fresh foods. The farmers cheer as my children try new fruits and vegetables. The infectious excitement and fun at the market facilitates my efforts to get my kids to gobble up healthy food.
So, I couldn’t be more pleased to announce that farmers markets are expanding to communities across the nation at an amazing rate!
Today we are announcing that there are 7,175 farmers markets listed in the 2011 USDA Farmers Market Directory. That’s 7,175 locations you can meet a farmer, get the freshest local produce, meat, dairy, cheese and other regional delights. That’s 7,175 locations where you can invest in your community, meet your neighbors and support the local and regional food system.
And it’s over 1,000 more farmers markets listed in the USDA Farmers Market Directory since last year. Since 2010, the number of farmers markets listed in the USDA National Farmers Market Directory on the Agricultural Marketing Service website has jumped 17 percent from 6,132. Some of the states that have seen the largest percentage jump in farmers markets over the past year are Alaska (farmers markets up 46 percent); Texas (up 38 percent), Colorado (up 38 percent) New Mexico (up 38 percent) and Indiana (up 37 percent). Oklahoma, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan round out the list for the top ten states for farmers market growth by percentage.
But what do all these numbers mean? The growth in farmers markets is a sign that the local and regional food system is robust and thriving. More farmers markets mean more opportunities for small and midsize farmers – especially beginning farmers – to diversify their farms, sell their products and grow their businesses. More farmers markets mean more local economic stimulation to more communities which, in turn, mean more job opportunities. More farmers markets mean more access to fresh, healthy and local food. In fact the number of farmers markets now accepting SNAP (Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program, formerly known as food stamps) has also grown by 16 percent.
We also know that more people are looking for farmers markets. From January to July, 2011, the USDA Farmers Market Directory had over 1.8 million page views. That’s a tripling from the same time frame in 2010! Users of the USDA National Farmers Market Directory include everyone from producers looking for places to sell their products to consumers like you, looking for the freshest food around.