This week marks the 15th Annual National Farmers Market Week, where we celebrate the abundance of summer and the farmers and growers who make it possible. USDA has identified strengthening local food systems as one of the four pillars of rural economic development. Nationwide, local food is one of the fastest growing segments of agriculture.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture indicates that 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling their products directly to consumers, often through farmers markets.
Through the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA is making a historic investment of more than $78 million to support farmers markets and local and regional food systems.
In our positions, we have seen firsthand how farmers markets here in Massachusetts are helping to support family farms and grow local economies. They bring communities together, connecting cities with the farms that support them, and provide consumers throughout the commonwealth with fresh, healthy food.
In honor of this week and Massachusetts farmers and growers, here are our top five reasons to shop at a farmers market this week (and every week):
1. You’re buying local. Farmers markets bring benefits not only to producers, but to consumers and our local communities as well. When local food marketing opportunities exist for rural producers, they cause ripple effects throughout the rural economy.
2. Strong local economies! This segment of agriculture is a vibrant growth area that is drawing young people back to rural communities, generating jobs, and improving quality of life. Spending our hard earned money with local businesses helps support the state’s economy, ensures that more of every food dollar ends up back in a farmer’s pocket, and helps keep that money circulating in the Commonwealth.
3. Farmers markets are easy to find. The USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory now lists 8,268 markets across the country, a 76 percent increase since 2008. Here in Massachusetts, the number of farmers markets has grown to 306 (the 6th most in the nation). You can find a farmers market near you by typing in your zip code at www.farmersmarkets.usda.gov.
4. Talk about options. Farmers markets offer a wide variety of fresh, affordable, convenient and healthy products sold directly from the farm. You can find ideas for how to use your purchases at www.whatscooking.fns.usda.gov.
5. They take plastic. In addition to accepting cash, many farmers markets now take advantage of mobile card readers and can accept credit cards, nutrition program benefits and even gift cards. The directory at www.farmersmarkets.usda.gov lists payment options available at each market.
Jon Niedzielski is state executive director, USDA Farm Service Agency and Jay Healy is state director for MA/CT/RI, USDA Rural Development. For more information on National Farmers Market Week and what USDA is doing to support farmers and growers in Massachusetts, visit www.usda.gov/knowyourfarmer.