Farmers' Markets: Why They're So Popular; How to Find One Near Your Home

Farmers' Market

In 1994, when the Department of Agriculture first began publishing a list of farmers' markets in the U.S., the figure was 1,755. By 2011, it was 7,175, and, by August 2012, the number of markets had increased an additional 9.6% to 7,864.  The August 2013 figure was 8,144, a 3.6% increase  above the preceding year.   Growth in the number of markets is slowing down, but it's still ongoing. In 2015, the total was 8,476. 


The value of the food sold at farmers' markets rose from about $1 billion in 2005 to nearly $7 billion in 2012, according to the Farm Futures website.  Why are so many food dollars being spent at these markets? Customers mention several reasons and benefits.  Many want access to locally grown, very fresh produce. They also enjoy meeting growers who produce their food. They value the opportunity to become better informed about where their food comes from and how it was handled. Furthermore, an outing to a farmers' market may be fun for the family and a social event within the community. 


If these advantages sound good to you but you don't know of any farmers' markets in your area, the government offers help. Just go to the USDA National Farmers Market Search Engine, type in your zip code, and you'll get a list of farmers' markets within whatever distance of your home you stipulate. For more information, click on the box to the right of a market's name.  For for further details about a particular farmers' market, check online to see if that market has its own website.  Many do.


Now, let's delve further into the benefits of buying some of your groceries directly from farmers.  The freshness factor is undeniable.  An apple in the supermarket may have been pulled off the tree as long ago as 11 months; an apple at the farmers’ market may have been harvested 2 days ago. The average travel time for supermarket produce is about 2,000 miles; for farmers’ market produce, it’s 50 miles.  We’ve heard countless claims that recently harvested fruit and veggies are far superior in taste. 


Variety is another benefit found at many markets.  Farmers are now growing produce to meet the needs of various ethnic groups, fruits and vegetables that the general American public may not be familiar with.  For example, farmers’ markets may sell kale, daikon (a type of radish), and lemongrass to meet the needs of Asian shoppers. “What’s that?” visitors can ask farmers when they come upon produce they don’t recognize.  “What do I do with it? How do I cook it?”  The answers might introduce them to something new that adds an exotic flavor to their soups or sauces.


Organic produce, which is not treated with preservatives and therefore must be recently harvested, attracts many customers to these markets. Some customers, whether fervent believers in organic foods in general or not, want produce that hasn’t been treated with chemical fertilizers, preservatives, or pesticides.  At least some organic farmers are likely to be at a farmers’ market.


Many other rewards may be derived from an excursion to a farmers’ market--psychological, physical, social, and educational.  Walking around a large farmers’ market provides good exercise that stimulates the body and the mind. Furthermore, it can be quite educational. Adults can ask questions about products, gardening, and food handling. Kids get a chance to see what produce looks like when first harvested—zucchinis with blossoms and cauliflower still in its cocoon of leaves.  And farmers’ markets bring activity and sometimes excitement and revitalization to a neighborhood or a downtown section of town.  In poorer urban neighborhoods where no grocery stores remain, the farmers’ market may be the only nearby source of fresh food. 


Some shoppers come to farmers' markets in search of lower prices than the local grocery stores have.   But, according to Randall Caplan, former board member of the Morton Grove (Illinois) Farmers’ Market and frequent visitor to markets in neighboring communities and states, “There are no bargains at farmers’ markets. What customers do get is freshness and variety.”


Before you rush off to the farmers' market closest to your residence or job, please  go to the Shelf Life Advice links listed to the right of this article under "Related Articles."  These cover sanitation issues and offer suggestions about what time of day to go and what to bring with you. They will help you become a savvy and safe farmers' market shopper. 


Source(s): "Farmers' Markets and Local Food Marketing" (1994-2014) markets Farmers Markets Search "Farmers' Market Growth: 1994-2012"


Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture “Frequently Asked Questions on Food Regulations for Small Market Food Producers”


University of Nebraska-Lincoln, UNL Extension in Lancaster County 

“The Garden Grocery: Food Safety and Selection at the Farmers’ Market”


University of Missouri Extension “Starting and Operating a Farmers’ Market: Frequently Asked Questions” by Bill McKelvey


farm "USDA Reports Growth in Farmers' Markets"



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