Farmers Markets Take Center Stage

Across the country, farmers markets, long seen as more local curiosity than major component of agricultural production, are booming as consumer grow more concerned with buying local produce.

Thirty years ago, many farmers would hardly consider farmers markets a valuable avenue of agricultural marketing and sales. The Buzby family of Woodstown, New Jersey, and hour south of Philadelphia, embodied that mentality, selling most of the produce grown on their fruit and vegetable farm to wholesalers, rather than bothering with an hour-long trip to farmers markets in Philly.

With recent safety scares, however, consumers are becoming more and more aware of where they purchase their food. Last year’s listeria outbreak, the deadliest foodborne illness outbreak in recent history, combined with fears of mad cow disease and controversies over pink slime and other food additives have driven more and more consumers to local farmers markets to buy produce from local farmers.

The federal government has certainly aided the process. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign was designed to encourage consumers to buy agricultural goods from local farmers in an effort to improve local nutrition and benefit the local economy. Recent action by the USDA to improve wireless technology in farmers markets to allow Food Stamps participants to buy goods will only increase attendance.

The results have been remarkable. The Buzby family, for instance, has gone from ignoring farmers markets to generating about 20 percent of their $1 million annual revenue from them. Nationwide, USDA estimates place farmers market sales at about 2 percent of total farm sales (or about $1 billion).

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer