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Increasing Opportunities and Expanding Possibilities through the Farmers Market Promotion Program

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan (center, white jacket) buys produce at the Baltimore farmers market in Baltimore, MD., on July 8, 2012. The mid-Atlantic region saw double-digit growth in its listings in the National Farmers Market Directory.  Maryland added 76 new market listings alone. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan (center, white jacket) buys produce at the Baltimore farmers market in Baltimore, MD. By supporting farmers markets and other businesses, Farmers Market Promotion Program funds have helped open new doors for farmers and ranchers all across the country.

Last Friday, I was honored to announce $9 million in new grants through USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). The program targets producers, cooperatives and organizations that market products directly to consumers – just one of the many marketing approaches that make American agriculture so successful.

FMPP grants have helped open new doors for farmers and ranchers across the country, strengthened the connection between producers and their communities, and expanded consumer access to farm-fresh foods.

For example, this year’s awards include support for Earth Learning in Miami to expand Harvest Markets, a hub for local produce, meats, dairy and more. Funds will enable the group to expand a community farmers market, develop a new mobile market, and ensure that both markets accept electronic benefits like SNAP.  That means new business opportunities for farmers and ranchers in southern Florida and greater access to fresh foods for local consumers.

In Ohio, Flying HIGH will use FMPP funds to recruit and train young urban adults as farmers, showing them how to grow and sell produce at new farmers markets in Youngstown and throughout Mahoning County.  A combination of production and marketing education, technical support services, supplies and professional development will have significant impact on the long-term success of young farmers in the community.

I announced the newest round of FMPP awards during a trip to Cleveland, OH, a city that is reaping the benefit of its region’s diverse agricultural industry. At the Downtown Farmers Market in Cleveland’s Public Square, I met producers from the state’s rural areas who were boosting their bottom line through direct-to-consumer sales. Shoppers at the market relished the opportunity to learn more about where their food comes from. I saw value-added businesses making use of local produce to create delicious products. I spoke with one family who launched a successful pizza business at the market, topping their pies with whatever was fresh at the market that day.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary visits a vendor at Cleveland, Ohio's Downtown Farmers Market at Public Square.  With the help of Farmers Market Promotion Program funds, farmers markets and other organizations will strengthen the connection between farmers and their communities and increase access to fresh, healthy foods.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary visits a vendor at Cleveland, Ohio's Downtown Farmers Market at Public Square. With the help of Farmers Market Promotion Program funds, farmers markets and other organizations will strengthen the connection between farmers and their communities and increase access to fresh, healthy foods.

Our agricultural industry is strong because it is so diverse, and direct marketing opportunities are part of that diversity. FMPP is just one example of how USDA is supporting these opportunities for farmers and ranchers of all sizes. Through FMPP and other programs, we have helped build infrastructure, provide training, expand businesses and support farmers and ranchers as they work to meet consumer demand for local foods.

You can find out more about the program and this year’s awards on USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service website. An interactive view of USDA programs that support local and regional foods, including FMPP, is available through the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass.

3 Responses to “Increasing Opportunities and Expanding Possibilities through the Farmers Market Promotion Program”

  1. Lauren H. says:

    I admire how Farmer’s Markets have the ability to create a sense of community among cities and local towns. I especially love the feeling of waking up on a Saturday morning, grabbing my Chico bags, and heading out to sample the delicious fresh fruit that awaits me. But does local mean safe? Or does the ability to speak to your farmer mean that they are telling the truth?

    I have worked at a health food store for many years sourcing local and organic produce from area farmers in a very rural part of Indiana. However, many times I have been disappointed with the lack of honesty from farmers and the methods that they use. As an example, we had a man selling the store “organic” duck eggs where, upon visiting the farm, I saw that he was feeding the ducks GMO feed (GMO feed disqualifies an animal for being considered organic). In addition, when I asked if he needed help in sourcing an alternative, he refused and believed what he was doing was morally and ethically alright.

    I know that the purpose of the FMPP is to promote local agriculture and economies, but many times it is at the expense of the consumer. An expose on NBC (False Claims, Lies Caught on Tape at Farmers Markets) showed that farmers were going as far as selling produce they hadn’t grown, a direct violation of the permit that all farmers must receive before participating. Unfortunately, no matter how much the consumer asks, that doesn’t prevent the farmer from telling an old- fashioned fib.

    So, while I support my areas farmers market and especially the FMPP, I do for different reasons rather than the “local” food. I do it to feel a part of the community and to enjoy time outdoors eating truly delicious food. However, I also am feeling skeptical of the scenario the whole time. Even though I can’t guarantee an honest answer, I will not stop asking farmers if what they are producing is organic or was grown without pesticides. If anything, I hopefully can awaken the moral compass within them to do the right thing and tell the truth.

  2. David Carpenter says:

    I too was surprised when I learned that some of the farmers at a local market, to broaden their selection, were selling vegetables not even grown in this country. When I sell vegetables I tell customers the products are not certified organic but have been grown free of pesticides and with organic fertilizer. I try to educate the customer to the fact that if it is not certified as organic than it is not organic, regardless of how it was grown or what the grower claims. If a farmer is not growing certified produce than how do you know he even understands the full extent of what organic growing encompasses? For example, would a farmer, who is not certified organic,but claims to sell ‘organic’ produce, purchase considerably more expensive organic seed? I have also been surprised at the feedback from customers that dont care if the product is organic, they just want to know if it was ever sprayed or what the fertilizer was, they dont really seem to care if it certified organic as long as it is affordable, fresh and locally grown.

  3. Brenda Williams says:

    Looking for Grants available for the Georgia Area. Grants available to Non Profits Food Banks

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