This week is National Farmers Market Week in the United States, and to celebrate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has good news: the USDA’s recently updated National Farmers Market Directory now lists 8,144 farmers markets, up from 5,000 in 2008. The increase reflects the increased public demand for fresh, healthy foods and interest in eating locally. Farmers markets are becoming more diverse, and more farmers and other small businesses are looking to them for new marketing opportunities. They’re looking in the right places: according to the most recent Census of Agriculture, local food and direct marketing opportunities increased by nearly 50 percent from 2002 to 2007, and regional and local food sales brought in US$11 billion in 2011.
In recent years, the USDA and dozens of non-profits around the country have worked to connect farmers and consumers, closing the gap between production and consumption. Creating a link between vendors and consumers also creates a link between families and healthy eating: a study in the American Journal of Public Health reports that families who have access to farmers markets eat an average of 1.4 more servings of fruits and veggies than families who don’t.
Farmers markets are also community centers and social events that bring out people from all over a community. They benefit local businesses that have storefronts near the farmers markets. Communities as a whole saw increases of up to US$56 million per market. The state with the most farmers markets is California (759), followed by New York (637) and Illinois (336). Missouri has seen more markets popping up in the last year, tied with Virginia for 9th place with a total of 246; last year, it was ranked 19th. Many markets will celebrate National Farmers Market Week with contests, music, cooking demonstrations, and other festivities.