Farmers’ markets open for business throughout region

Managing Editor

(April 28, 2015) As farmers’ markets throughout the Delmarva region open their main selling season, acceptance of federal nutrition program benefits to buy products is increasing.
This year in Delaware, funding from the Farm Bill allowed for 13 markets to accept benefits from the Women Infant Children program. Allowing program participants to use coupons for the locally grown food is a “win-win” giving them a way to get fresh food and increases the farmer’s revenue, said David Smith, marketing specialists at the Delaware Department of Agriculture.
Nine markets statewide and four markets in New Castle County will be added to those equipped to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, as well, Smith said.
A few markets will be offering the Summer Food Service Program for children through the state department of education, he said.
Essentially, children can come to a participating market in the non-school weeks and receive a free meal during market hours, Smith said, but which markets are offering the meals is still being determined.
In Maryland, there are about 140 markets listed with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and each has at least one FMNP participating vendor, according to Shelby Watson Hampton, MDA’s farmers market nutrition program manager. Last year, $505,561 was paid to Maryland farmers who are authorized to accept these FMNP Checks, Hampton said.
MDA is also launching a Farmers Market Finder mobile site in June.
The Farmers Market Finder will list all farmers’ markets in the state that have farm vendors who accept nutrition assistance program checks and will also remind users how to use their checks at farmers’ markets, remind them what foods are eligible for purchase and provide links to videos and photos of farmers who participate in the FMNP program.
The app will also provide recipes for fresh produce dishes. Participants can also opt to receive mobile text messages every month.
Maryland is also one of seven states working with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service on a farmers market pricing pilot program.
Five markets in Maryland will participate in recording and submitting prices for fruit, vegetable and meat products to AMS’s Ag Market News.
Only prices of the products will be submitted, the names of the farmers and farms selling those products will not be recorded, and will be remain anonymous.
The prices would be complied for an average at each market, then an average across the state.
Once compiled and published the data will eventually be available as a resource to the market, agricultural entities, and the general public.
“They want to do this in all the states and they want to see how it works in Maryland,” Hampton said.
This project is designed to help farmers’ market producers by providing essential market information to the USDA-Risk Management Agency as it develops new crop insurance products to insure small farmers.
“I’m exited about the positive potential these two programs could have for farmers in Maryland to participate in farmers’ markets,” said Watson Hampton. “The buy local trend is booming. People are constantly calling me for information on starting new markets. I think the excitement is about the national trend of wanting to know where food comes from. Farmers’ markets are the front lines of that.”
In Virginia, a $3.7 million grant award through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program is going to Wholesome Wave Foundation Charitable Ventures Inc.
Wholesome Wave will partner with the following 11 Virginia markets and groups to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
While a few markets aren’t returning for one reason or another, others have popped up and state officials say demand for locally grown food continues to rise and farmers’ markets still remain a key way for people to get it.
“It’s a national trend. People like to shop them,” said David Smith, marketing specialists at the Delaware Department of Agriculture.
Last year, Delaware farmers’ markets generated $2.6 million, breaking the previous year’s total.
Smith said he’s seeing a trend of markets aligning with wineries and breweries.
The market in Georgetown is making a permanent move to the 16 Mile Brewery and The Milton Farmers Market which kicked off on April 17 is holding one sales day a month at the Dogfish Head Brewery.
In previous years, the market held its last sales day of the season at the brewery for an Octoberfest event.
“They get huge crowds when they go there,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of excitement around this because these breweries use local products.”
Smith said there are also plans to have sale dates for the Smryna Farmers’ Market at Painted Stave Distillery.
“We’re finding that people go for the experience,” Smith said. “It’s becoming a social, almost happy hour kind of environment.”