Farmers Markets Preserve Farmland and Rural Livelihoods

What comes to mind when you think about a farmer? For many Americans, farmers exemplify the fundamental essence of our nation’s core values. Entrepreneurship. Industry. Self-sufficiency. Innovation. It’s difficult to understand how anyone who possesses these qualities could find themselves struggling to sustain their livelihood – especially when that livelihood produces what everyone in this country needs everyday: food.

Yet according to the USDA, between 1992 to 2007, 21% of mid-sized farms in the U.S. have gone out of business. In this challenging economic climate dominated by large corporations, small farmers – most notably young and new farmers – do everything they can to maintain a thriving business and keep their livelihood from failure. A 2012 USDA agriculture census illuminated a sobering statistic about the future of farming: there are almost 4 times as many U.S. farmers are over the age of 65 as there are under the age of 35.

However, for young, new and experienced farmers alike, farmers markets create opportunity. Over the past decade, the increased demand for fresh, local food has both sparked the exponential growth of farmers markets nationwide, and expanded the ability for small farming enterprises to enter the market, take root and grow. Farmers markets prove to be the ideal venue for new and young entrepreneurs to cultivate a small, burgeoning business.

So, how are farmers markets supporting small and mid-size farmers?

  • Small-scale farmers use farmers markets as incubators for new enterprises and gain real-time feedback on new crops and varieties.
  • Small and mid-size farmers who sell at farmers markets have nearly a 10 percent greater chance of staying in business than those selling goods through traditional channels. [i]
  • Even small community markets are champions of farmland preservation and farm viability; Georgia’s Lilburn   Farmers Market gives 10 farmers an opportunity to grow produce on 500 acres of farmland.
  • Eighty percent of farmers market vendors in Iowa, New York, and California said that farmers markets offer them a greater opportunity for business development than any other possible marketing outlet. [ii]
  • The seven Seattle farmers markets hosted by the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance support 9,491 acres of farmland in diversified production.
  • There are 3.5 times as many U.S. farmers over the age of 65 as there are under 35. Farmers markets provide one of the only low-barrier entry points for new farmers, allowing them to start small as they learn and test the market. [iii]
  • 16% of farmers selling at farmers markets are under 35 and 43% have farmed for less than 10 years. These rates are twice the national rates for all farmers according to the 2012 Ag Census. [iv]
  • 50% of farmers selling at farmers markets derive at least half their revenue from farmers market sales. [v]
  • The number of farmers markets operating in winter months has nearly tripled since 2010. The 2,469 markets open in the winter provide an extended opportunity for farmers to do business. [vi],[vii]

Farmers markets are paving the way for a new generation of farmers – a time-honored profession vital to the preservation of America’s rich farmland and our intrinsic ability to enjoy fresh, local food. What’s more American than your local, small farmer? Let’s just say the runners-up are baseball and apple pie.

Learn about the other benefits of farmers markets here.

“If it weren’t for the rise of farmers markets, a lot of these small farms would simply not exist.” Rebecca Landis, market director for the Corvallis-Albany Farmers’ Markets. 

“We were working hard to protect the region’s farmland but realized that without a new generation of farmers and stronger local food systems, there would be no one to work the land, protected or not.” Noelle Ferdon, Director of Local Food Systems, Northern California Regional Land Trust 

References

[i] Low, Sarah A., Aaron Adalja, Elizabeth Beaulieu, Nigel Key, Steve Martinez, Alex Melton, Agnes Perez, Katherine Ralston, Hayden Stewart, Shellye Suttles, Stephen Vogel, and Becca B.R. Jablonski. (January 2015). Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems, AP-068, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Servicehttp://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1763057/ap068.pdf

[ii] Feenstra GW, Lewis CC, Hinrichs CC, Gillespie Jr GW & Hilchey D. (2003). Entrepreneurial Outcomes and Enterprise Size in US Retail Farmers Markets. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture 18, 46-55. dx.doi.org/10.1079/AJAA200233.

[iii] USDA NASS. 2012 Census of Agriculture. www.agcensus.usda.gov.

[iv] (2015) Direct Market Farmers: National Survey. American Farmland Trust and Farmers Market Coalition. Unpublished raw data.

[v] (2015) Direct Market Farmers: National Survey. American Farmland Trust and Farmers Market Coalition. Unpublished raw data

[vi] United States Department of Agriculture. National Farmers Market Directory. http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets.

[vii] Sparks, G. (2011) “Winter Farmers Markets Expand.” Retrieved from www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2011/12/0516.xml