August 5-11, 2012 is the 12th annual National Farmers Market Week. Since 2000, the number of farmers markets listed with the United States Department of Agriculture has grown over 170%, from 2,863 markets in 2000 to more than 7,800 in 2012. These numbers continue to rise as farmers markets become fresh food mainstays for shoppers across all socio-economic, political, and ethnic ranges. Farmers markets bolster local economies, improve community health, and bring diverse groups of people together through a shared social space. Farmers markets also create more viable regional economies; increased access to fresh, nutritious food; and stronger social networks that help keep communities strong. The State of Kansas is currently home to almost 100 farmers markets.
While unemployment hovers at high levels this summer, entrepreneurship is thriving in unexpected places. With little fanfare, the nation’s several thousand farmers markets are growing jobs and strengthening local and regional economies. As demand grows for fresh local food, and shoppers seek relationships with the farms that make such food possible, farmers markets represent an important retail option to bolster local economies in communities large and small.
A 2011 Economic Research Service report found that fruit and vegetable farms selling into local and regional markets employ 13 full time workers per $1 million in revenue earned, for a total of 61,000 jobs in 2008. Comparatively, fruit and vegetable farms that are not selling locally employed only 3 full-time workers per $1 million in revenue.
Farmers markets also help the local economy by putting more food dollars into the farmer's pockets and retaining these same dollars within the community. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, farmers typically receive only 15.8 cents of the average dollar consumers spend on food. Farmers markets are one place where farmers can retain a higher proportion of the food dollar, and earn a fair wage. As demand grows for fresh local food, farmers markets are fostering appreciation for agriculture even in the most urban of neighborhoods, putting farmers in the center of the food system and allowing independently owned family businesses to thrive. A recent PolicyLink report notes, “Smaller-scale farmers who face high competition from larger, industrialized agriculture can increase their viability by selling their goods at farmers’ markets, where returns are generally 200 to 250 percent higher than what they receive from wholesalers.”
A 2010 study by USDA’s Economic Research Service compares producers selling salad mix, blueberries, milk, beef and apples locally with producers of the same products selling to mainstream supply chains. “In all five cases, nearly all of the wage and proprietor income earned in the local market chains is retained in the local economy”. Likewise, a series of case studies by Civic Economics shows that for every dollar we spend at a large chain, about 15 cents stays in the area, while locally owned enterprises like farms trap 30 to 45 cents.
Farmers markets help both the economic and physical health of the community. In a time of rising concerns about the increasing incidence of obesity and associated chronic conditions, there is surprising good news on the farmers market front. Every day, more communities are converging at farmers markets to begin building healthful relationships with food. United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says “farmers markets across the country offer consumers affordable, convenient, and healthful products sold directly from the farm in their freshest possible state, increasing consumer access to fresh fruits and vegetables and thus promoting child health and potentially reducing childhood obesity.”
As consumers seek more meaningful relationships with their food, with local farms, and with their neighbors, farmers markets continue to improve community health by bringing diverse groups of people together in a shared social space and offering educational opportunities at the same time. Many farmers markets conduct demonstrations that teach people how to prepare fresh produce at home and provide them with recipes to take advantage of what’s in season. In the State of Kansas, the Savor the Season Program, operated under the direction of the Kansas Rural Center, offers recipe cards and other promotional materials to farmers markets across the state of Kansas. The program has also awarded sixteen of the participating Kansas farmers markets mini-grants and cost shares to organize activities and events that promote specialty crops such as arugula, eggplant, basil, beets and spaghetti squash..
This summer, nationwide participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is at a record high of approximately 46 million Americans. Fortunately, the families relying on this and other programs to put food on the table have a friend in farmers markets, where an increasing number of low-income consumers are purchasing locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
In 2011, participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) redeemed more than $11.7 million in benefits at farmers markets. This represents a 55% increase in one year. In the past five years, the number of farmers markets accepting SNAP benefits increased 360%. At least one hundred of these farmers markets are in what the USDA Economic Research Service considers food deserts.
Along with such growth comes inspiring innovation at the local level designed to ensure that farmers markets are making quality food available to all members of a community. Nationwide, 1.9 million WIC mothers and 863,000 low-income seniors were able to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables directly from farmers at thousands of farmers markets in 2011 through the WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs.
A recent Economic Research Service report showed that less healthy foods tend to have a low price per calorie, exacerbating the difficulty of adding healthy fresh fruits and vegetables into American diets. However, a price comparison study conducted by students at Seattle University showed that most vegetables sold at the farmers market had lower if not comparable prices to their grocery store. Further, in 74% of the communities examined in Anthony Flaccavento’s price comparison study of Appalachia and the Southeast, produce was less expensive at farmers markets compared to supermarkets, on average by 22%.
The richly celebrated benefits of farmers markets –local economic dollars, direct interaction with farmers, fresh food and decreased fuel consumption, just to name a few –would not be a reality without a support of thousands of volunteers. Unquestionably the vitality behind the nation’s burgeoning market growth, volunteers breathe life into new farmers market enterprises and keep day-to-day operations running smoothly.
According the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, more than 60% of farmers markets are managed by volunteers. Among Farmers Market Coalition members, the ratio of volunteers to paid staff is six to one. The power of farmers markets to strengthen social fabric is attracting national attention, too. A recent PolicyLink report states that “…direct interaction between growers and customers facilitates the formation of personal relationships in a way that is not possible at third-party stores.” Studies also show that farmers market visitors have 10 times more conversation than those shopping at a grocery store.
As the U.S. economy recovers from a period of uncertainty and concern, farmers markets bolster rural America and help a new generation of farmers guide their businesses into a bright and sustainable future. The expansion of farmers markets across the county, coupled with higher market standards, innovation, and the continued growth of small farms, helps to ensure the long-term economic health of the nation’s rural communities and young agricultural entrepreneurs.
The 2007 Census of Agriculture found that U.S. farmers older than 55 operate more than half of the country’s farmland, but increasing numbers of young growers are forging professional partnerships with these retiring farmers thanks to connections made through local networking. Farmers markets provide a unique incubator for interaction between generations and help to perpetuate the nation’s agricultural traditions.
Celebrate National Farmers Market Week at Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market, this Thursday, August 9, 2012 from 4:00 pm – 6:30 pm. Cottin’s will have its usual selection of wonderful local produce, including this season’s first harvest of local pears from both Stony Ridge Farms and Fieldstone Orchard. Lamborn Farms will be on hand with a great selection of grass fed beef and pasture raised pork, not to mention an ample supply of their barn like bird houses. Bake goods, jams, jellies, preserves, eggs, honey, general food stuffs and much more will also be available. August offers a plethora of season vegetables including kale, chard, turnips, summer squash, onions, basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, beans and mushrooms, along with a healthy supply of fruits including watermelon, musk melon, apples, peaches and pears.
Terrebonne Café will supply a variety of Cajun fare at this week’s Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market, while Free State Brewing Company and Iwig Dairy supply the drinks and dessert, respectively. Ardys Ramberg will make a special appearance as the market’s musical entertainment, crooning her way through a delightful selection of jazz, cowboy and old time songs with a little baritone ukulele on the side.
The Cordley Elementary School Chess Club will set up tables in the market center and take on challengers of all ages and talents. As a special treat for the week, Johnson County Community College will set up an informational booth to share exciting and timely information on “JCCC in Lawrence” opportunities, including their Sustainable Agriculture Program and great classes like a Residential Energy Auditing class.
Cottin’s Hardware Farmers market is held in the back parking lot of Cottin’s Hardware & Rental, 1832 Massachusetts Street, Lawrence, KS, Thursdays, from 4:00 pm – 6:30 pm.
Celebrate National Farmers Market Week all season long at any of the 7,800 farmers markets nationwide!
[The above is article is a compilation of excerpts from press releases found on the Farmers Market Coalition website.]