AmericanFarm.com

Farmers’ markets are bullish (Editorial)

“Buy Local, Eat Fresh” has gone viral.
The nation has fallen passionately in love with farmers’ markets.
They are cropping up everywhere, much to the delight of the farm community.
The farmer’s share of the food dollar is greater in a cantaloupe and a head of lettuce than it is in a bushel of corn.
The new relevance of the farmers’ market industry has attracted the attention of the USDA.
The span of Aug. 5-11 was declared National Famers’ Market Week.
In observance, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced a 9.6-percent increase in National Farmers Market Directory listings.
The directory, a database published online at farmersmarkets.usda.gov, identifies 7,864 farmers’ markets now operating throughout the United States.
The figure last year was 7,175.
“Farmers markets are a critical ingredient to our nation’s food system,” said Merrigan. “These outlets provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also to the communities looking for fresh, healthy foods.”
The top states, in terms of the number of markets reported in the directory, include California (827 markets), New York (647) and Massachusetts (313). Pennsylvania has 254 markets, and Virginia and Iowa are tied with 227 each.
Interestingly last year, the Mid-Atlantic region had the largest percentage of growth among the various geographic regions.
The Mid-Atlantic, consisting of Delaware, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, recorded a growth of 15.8 percent.
The Northeast — which is all of New England — was next with a 14.4 percent increase.
Merrigan called the national growth rate of nine percent “amazing” and credited it partly to consumers desiring to reconnect with the folks who grow their food.
Also, she said, the severe nationwide drought has underscored the need for consumers to support their local growers.
She noted that farmers get only about 14 cents of every retail dollar spent on food but that farmers’ markets — with direct sales to consumers — boost that percentage.
There is some concern with the industry, at this point given only scant attention but still worrisome, that the growth of the farmers’ market network, both locally and across the nation may soon be overextended, if it is not already.
Keeping all of those markets supplied with fresh produce is less worrisome than keeping them supplied with a customer base sufficient to keep them profitable.
On South Jersey, for example, it is not unusual to see five or six markets, of various sizes, within a span of 10 or fewer miles.
And some marketers, looking at a pile of fresh-picked corn that will have to go into refrigeration overnight, are musing again about the law of supply and demand.