RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—In a dismal week for the U.S. economy featuring debt-ceiling drama in Washington and the threat of a double-dip recession on Wall Street, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) delivered some powerhouse statistics demonstrating the public's demand for healthy, organic food: The number of farmer's markets in the country increased 17 percent in the last year. "There's a yearning for the 99 percent of Americans who are no longer connected to the farm to reconnect," Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of the USDA, said in a press call Friday afternoon.
The timing is perfect—this week marks National Farmer's Market Week—and comes on the heels of a new report finding that farmer's markets could generate thousands of jobs in the U.S.
THE DETAILS: The 2011 USDA Farmer's Market Directory lists 7,175 farmer's market, and Merrigan says the number is probably even higher because some markets don't self-report. The states with the most markets include California, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. And, though not on the top 10 list, Alaskan farmer's markets increased 46 percent over last year, and Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico were each up 38 percent. As an indication that shoppers are indeed searching for more local, organic food, Merrigan said more than 2 million people have searched the USDA Farmer's Market Directory so far in 2011.
"Farmer's markets are just growing exponentially," said Merrigan, who highlighted farmer's market innovations, particularly those that bring healthy produce to low-income areas. One such advancement is the increase in farmer's markets' allowing electronic benefit transfers (EBT), so people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, can purchase fresh, healthy food at farmer's markets. Many of these markets are moving into food deserts, areas without grocery stores that sell fresh produce and where the few stores that do sell fresh vegetables are bodegas and corner stores with a high mark-up.
Note: Many of the USDA programs that help boost farmer's markets numbers and bring healthy food to people could be on the chopping block in the 2012 Farm Bill.
Along with the USDA's new statistics, the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released an report finding that farmer's markets could be a much-needed antidote to high unemployment. Their economic analysis found that even modest public support for up to 500 farmer's markets annually would create up to 13,500 jobs in a five-year window, bolstering local and regional food systems. "On the whole, farmers markets have seen exceptional growth, providing local communities with fresh food direct from the farm," says Jeffrey O’Hara, the author of the report and an economist with UCS’s Food and Environment Program. "But our federal food policies are working against them." He adds that tens of thousands more new jobs could be created if the government would just divert a small fraction of the subsidies that are currently doled out to industrial farms to farmer's markets.
Published on: August 5, 2011
Updated on: August 6, 2011