A farmers market is a public and recurring assembly of farmers or their representatives selling the food that they produced directly to consumers. Farmers markets facilitate personal connections and bonds of mutual benefits between farmers, shoppers, and communities. By cutting out middlemen, farmers receive more of our food dollars and shoppers receive the freshest and most flavorful food in their area and local economies prosper. Each farmers market defines the term "local" according to the agriculture of its region and regularly communicates that definition to the public. Farmers markets also implement guidelines and operating rules that ensure the farmers market consists principally of vendors selling directly to the public products that the vendors have produced. The number of farmers markets in the United States has grown rapidly in recent years, from just under 2,000 in 1994 to more than 8,600 markets currently registered in the USDA Farmers Market Directory.
What will I find at a farmers market?
It depends. Farmers markets vary in size and always reflect a region's agriculture and seasons. Some markets are seasonal and comprised of a small number of vendors, while others involve hundreds of vendors and take place year-round. It is a source of pride to vendors and market shoppers alike that the products available at farmers market represent the agricultural of a region or state. Depending on the time of the year, you might find avocados, olives, steak or artichokes in Texas or California, and be more likely to find paw paws, peanuts, pork, and peonies in Virginia.
Some markets concentrate on produce, while others carry everything from fruits and vegetables to baked goods, meat, eggs, flowers, and dairy products. Some may carry locally made crafts or prepared foods as a complement to the agricultural products they sell. As the number of markets grows, so does the variety of products available.
Are farmers markets only open in the summer?
Peak harvest season is usually peak market season, and some markets are only open in the spring, summer, and early autumn. Nevertheless, year-round farmers market thrive in many states. Many markets are expanding their seasons or transitioning to year-round operation by offering their shoppers items including meat, eggs, dairy, bread and other products that are available fresh throughout the year. Even in colder climates, farmers are implementing a variety of season-extending techniques that can protect crops from frosts and allow them to be picked and sold fresh for more weeks of the year. You can learn more about what is seasonally available in your community here.
Do farmers markets only take cash?
There are many ways to pay at farmers markets. Cash usually works best but many vendors also accept checks, credit and debit cards. Moreover, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has partnered with FMC to provide eligible farmers markets and direct marketing farmers with the equipment necessary to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. In the past five years, the number of farmers markets and direct marketing farmers authorized to accept SNAP has grown rapidly and the amount of SNAP dollars spent at farmers markets has almost tripled.
In addition, more than 3,390 markets accept Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers and 4,590 markets participate in the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP). In 2015, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service reported that over $38 million was spent at farmers markets through these two programs alone. Some markets have even developed their own locally based currencies, like HealthBucks in New York and Fresh Bucks in Rhode Island.
Why should I shop at a farmers market when my supermarket sells organic food?
While some grocery stores do carry a small number of organic products, most cannot equal farmers markets in the variety and quality of local foods, let alone guarantee farmers a fair price. In 2017, American farmers receive only 17.4 cents of every dollar American's spent on food. At farmers markets, farmers head hope with upwards of 90 cents on the dollar. Shopping at a farmers market is also a wholly unique experience where farmers and shoppers get to know each other, do business, and help each other. Meeting friends and neighbors at the farmers market while shopping and supporting local businesses is just fun. When was the last time you told your friends to meet you in Isle.
What happens to food left over at farmers markets?
Most vendors have a good sense of how much will sell on any given market day, and prepare for it accordingly. However, if there are leftovers at the end of market, vendors are ready to recycle unsold produce into value-added products. For instance, excess tomatoes become tomato sauce and apples become apple cider. Unsaleable produce can be composted to return nutrients back to the farmers' fields. In addition, many markets also have donation arrangements with local food banks, soup kitchens, and other social service agencies. Farmers at seven farmers markets making up the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance in Seattle donated 44,000 pounds of fresh, local, quality produce to food banks in 2011. Through a partnership with a local health food store, farmers at the Webb City Farmers Market in Missouri donated enough fresh produce to serve 4,000 vegetarian and vegan meals to tornado relief volunteers working in the heat after the Joplin tornado. These are just a few examples of the ways farmers give back to the communities that host their markets.