Demand for local food spurs growth of farmers markets

As demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables has increased, so too has the number of urban farmers markets across the nation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the number of direct-sales markets has increased 9.6 percent in the past year.

“Farmers markets are a critical ingredient to our nation’s food system,” USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said. “These outlets provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also to the communities looking for fresh, healthy foods.”

After 18 years of steady increases, the number of farmers markets across the country now registered with the USDA is 7,864. In 1994, there were 1,744.

Organizations such as Slow Food, founded in 1989 to counter fast-food, junk-food lifestyles, first ignited consumer demand for fresh, local produce.

“My husband and I prefer to eat locally and organically,” said Tracy Stuntz, a college instructor shopping at a Fresno, Calif., farmers market. “You go to the grocery store and everything is the same. The farmers market has yellow zucchini and green onions that are like a foot long. Produce you don’t see other places.”

Today, some markets are so popular that there are wait lists for farmers to sell there, including one of the largest and most diverse of all, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco. Farmers from across the region travel there three days a week to sell fruits, vegetables, and artisan breads and cheeses to thousands of shoppers, including top chefs from the food-centric city.

Operated by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, the iconic market on the San Francisco Bay is celebrating its 20th birthday.

Dave Stockdale, the center’s executive director, said farmers markets empower consumers to become active supporters of their communities.

“Every day eaters have the opportunity to vote with their forks and support small-scale farmers, investing resources in their communities, stimulating their local economies, and keeping ag land in sustainable production,” he said.

The USDA has worked to make the markets accessible to people of all income levels by outfitting more with the ability to accept payments from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. More than $4 million is being made available to equip markets with wireless point-of-sale equipment.

The USDA website lists farmers markets with links to their websites. It also allows users to search by ZIP code, to make finding nearby markets easier:

Click here to see a list and map of local farmers markets

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