August 4, 2010
Farmers markets improve access to the freshest possible fruits and vegetables while providing direct market farmers with an important source of income. To celebrate the bountiful services they provide, the USDA has declared August 1-7, 2010 as National Farmers Market Week.
As USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack declared, “farmers markets play a key role in developing local and regional food systems, support family farms, revitalize local communities, provide important outlets for producers and the opportunity for farmers and consumers to interact.” He continued, “The USDA strongly supports farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer marketing activities for agricultural producers.”
The USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service began tracking the number of farmers markets in 1994 and found that they have multiplied continuously in the last two decades, with the number increasing by 16 percent in the last year alone.
The Midwest has seen the greatest surge in the number of farmers markets, with Missouri and Minnesota leading the way. The number of year-round markets has also increased, improving winter-time access to local and regional foods. Of the 6,132 farmers markets nationwide, 886 of them continue through the winter.
However, amidst all the momentum for fresh fruits and vegetables and local and regional food systems, critics point to charges of elitism often associated with the prevalence of farmers markets in higher income neighborhoods.
Both the public and non-profit sectors have stepped up to the plate to improve access to the healthy, local foods offered at farmers markets. The 2008 Farm Bill authorized a stipulation to the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) requiring a minimum of 10 percent of the program funds be allocated to foster the use of SNAP (formerly food stamps) and Women’s Infants and Children (WIC) benefits at farmers markets.
Two recent publications also address this issue. The USDA and the Project for Public Spaces published the “SNAP at Farmers Markets: A How To Handbook” and the Community Food Security Coalition and The Farmers Market Coalition published the “Real Food, Real Choice; Connecting SNAP Recipients with Farmers Markets” guide, both intended to facilitate SNAP purchases at farmers markets.
NSAC has continuously spoken out for direct marketing options for farmers. NSAC developed and championed the creation and funding of the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) in the last two farm bills to help foster growth of farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs) and other direct marketing channels.