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Del. farmers’ markets thriving, as are ones in Md., Va.

By JONATHAN CRIBBS
Staff Writer

(Jan. 20, 2015) As Delaware announces big growth in farmers’ market sales, officials in Maryland and Virginia said they’re not likely far behind even if they don’t have the same statistics to show it.
Delaware farmers’ markets had $2.6 million in sales in 2014, double the business they did five years ago, the state’s agriculture department said late last month.
Fresh produce made up nearly 60 percent of 2014’s Delaware sales, and the remainder came from products such as meat, cheese, jelly, bread, salsa, eggs and honey.
But big growth, measured in sales receipts or the increasing number of farmers’ markets, isn’t unique.
The number of nationwide markets tracked by the USDA leapt 57 percent from 5,274 in 2009 to 8,268 in 2014, data show, revealing a shift among some consumers toward locally grown food.
“In light of the food scares and the increased press attention to the sourcing of food, I think folks like to know their farmer,” said Amy Crone, executive director of the Maryland Farmers Market Association.
In 2014, the association distributed more than $100,000 in Maryland Market Money, a form of currency for people who take part in federal nutrition benefits programs, including what was formerly known as food stamps, she said. Shoppers in that program were also matched up to $10 by outside organizationsin 2013.
There’s been an increase in credit and debit sales, which the association tracks, and Crone said she’s already received five informational requests for new markets this month that would potentially add to the state’s 145 total markets. Delaware has 27.
Virginia is experiencing “dramatic” growth, said Sarah Pennington, a spokesperson with the state agriculture department.
The department marked the grand opening of a new market in Richmond on Thursday, adding one more to the state’s 200-plus farmers’ markets, which put it in the top 10 states with the most markets, according to the USDA.
That’s more than a 180 percent increase in the total number since 2006, according to the state agriculture department.
California tops the list with 764 markets. Virginia is ninth.
Sales in Delaware have risen steadily each year since market receipts were first tracked in 2007.
Delaware farmers’ markets pulled in about $290,000 that year.
“Over the last few years, we have seen an incredible rise in people wanting to eat healthy and buy fresh, local foods for themselves and their children,” state agriculture Secretary Ed Kee said. “Our farmers and producers are working to meet that demand by selling some of the best fresh produce, meats, cheeses and honey that any state can offer.
“Our farmers’ markets also connect the people who eat with the people who grow their food, fostering conversations and friendships that can last a lifetime.”