About Farmers Markets (Q & A)
What is a farmers market?
A farmers market is a public and recurring assembly of farmers or their representatives, selling directly to consumers food which they have produced themselves. More specifically, a farmers market operates multiple times per year and is organized for the purpose of facilitating personal connections that create mutual benefits for local farmers, shoppers, and communities. To fulfill that objective a farmers market defines the term local, regularly communicates that definition to the public, and implement rules/guidelines of operation that ensure that the farmers market consists principally of farms selling directly to the public products that the farms have produced. Some states have even established their own formal definitions which specify market characteristics in more detail. The number of farmers markets in the United States has steadily grown to more than 8,100 registered in the USDA Farmers Market Directory in 2013.
What will I find at a farmers market?
It depends. Farmers markets vary in size and shape. Some are just a few vendors who gather a few days out of the year, monthly. Some involve hundreds of vendors and take place every week of the year. The products available at farmers market generally represent their agricultural region, meaning that you might find avocados, almonds, and artichokes in California, and be more likely to find paw paws, peanuts, and peonies in Virginia. Some markets concentrate on produce.
Others carry everything from fruits and vegetables to baked goods, meat, eggs, flowers, and sometimes dairy products. Some may carry locally made crafts or prepared foods as a complement to the agricultural products for sale. As the number of markets grows, so does the variety of foods available.
How do farmers markets determine what to carry?
What is at market depends on a combination of location, season, and market rules about what can be sold. Many farmers markets only carry locally-grown, locally-made and/or locally-processed, foods, and create a system of guidelines that ensure vendors are producing what they are selling. Others have more flexible policies. The great thing about farmers markets is that if you are ever unsure about what a product is, where it came from, or how it was grown, you can just ask!
Are farmers markets only open in the summer?
Peak harvest season is usually peak market season, and some markets are only open in the prime summer months. In 2010, about 15% of all farmers markets were open in the winter months, and the average seasonal farmers market in the U.S. is open for approximately four and a half months of the year. However, you can expect to see more markets open for business in late spring through early fall, as markets aim to provide customers with products for more months of the year. Many markets are expanding their seasons through the winter or even all year round with things like meat, eggs, dairy, bread and other products that are available fresh all year long. Even in colder climates, farmers are implementing a variety of season extension techniques that can protect crops from frosts and allow them to provide you with quality fresh produce for more weeks of the year. You can learn more about what is seasonally available in your community here.
How can I find a farmers market near me?
Farmers markets are in every state and located in all kinds of places– from city squares to civic centers, from parks to parking lots, from sidewalks to shopping centers. Urban markets are often in central locations easily accessible by foot, bike, or public transportation. To find a market near you, ask your neighbors, friends, and colleagues, or search for one in USDA’s Farmers Market Directory, or at LocalHarvest.org andEatWellGuide.org. A large number of states have a statewide farmers market association that can also provide you with information. You can find a listing of the statewide farmers market associations that are also members of FMC by clicking here.
If you live in California, New York, Iowa, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Massachusetts, Ohio, or Kentucky you are lucky enough to be in a state with the most farmers markets in the country.
Do farmers markets only take cash?
There are many ways to pay at farmers markets. Cash usually works best. But EBT machines can be used to process payments for credit cards and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) payments. In the past five years, the number of farmers markets and direct marketing farmers authorized to accept SNAP has increased 360%, and 52% between 2010 and 2011 alone. According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Benefits Redemption Division, there were 3,214 farmers markets and individual direct marketing farmers authorized to accept SNAP, as of September 30th, 2012. The amount of SNAP benefits redeemed at farmers markets increased by 42% between 2011 and 2012, and a 490% increase in the past decade.
In addition, more than 4,070 markets accept Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers and 4,590 markets participate in the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP). In 2011, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service reported that over $38 million was spent at farmers markets through these two programs alone. Some markets have even developed their own locally based currencies, like HealthBucks in New York and Fresh Bucks in Rhode Island.
Who operates farmers markets?
Some big urban areas are home to regional market networks, such as Greenmarket in New York City, FreshFarm Markets in Washington, DC, and Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance in Seattle. Many markets operate independently, or with the help of city or nonprofit partners, sometimes transitioning to a stand-alone nonprofit as they grow. No matter how farmers markets organize, there is always a market manager or market master who enforces the market bylaws and oversees the daily business of the market. The market manager is generally the best point of contact for any questions.
Is produce from the farmers market always fresher and healthier?
According to a survey conducted by Farmers Markets Today magazine, more than 85% of farmers market vendors traveled fewer than 50 miles to sell at a farmers market in 2008. In fact, more than half of farmers traveled less than 10 miles to their market, according to a 2006 USDA survey. Some farmers markets require that all of their produce come from a specified mileage limit. For example, all farm products sold at the Morgantown Farmers Market in WV are grown within 50 miles. Compare that to other scenarios where seven to fourteen days can go by between the time produce is picked and when it becomes available at a supermarket. In that interval, fruits and vegetables can travel, on average, more than 1,200 miles before reaching the final consumer. Since studies have shown that produce loses nutritional value as more time elapses from the time of harvest, locally grown produce available at farmers markets is available to you at the peak of freshness and nutrient availability.
Why should I shop at a farmers market when my supermarket sells organic, and sometimes even local food?
While some food retailers do carry local and organic products, not all of them can carry a variety of local foods, or ensure a fair price to the farmer. Shopping at a farmers market is a wholly unique experience that benefits farmers and producers directly (they go home with a greater share of the retail price than they would by selling wholesale, where the margins are, well, just that– marginal), offering you more unique products, more heirloom varieties, and more opportunities to build relationships and learn about healthy eating. Farmers markets are a community experience, where you can meet your neighbors, friends, and farmers, and where more of your dollar will stay in the community.
Are prices for food the same at farmers markets as in grocery stores?
Farmers market vendors are local entrepreneurs who, like other retailers, set prices that allow them to reasonably cover their costs. Prices vary by product, but a number of studies (including one’s from Seattle, NOFA-VT, and Leopold Center) found that similar produce are typically less expensive at farmers markets than at nearby grocery stores. A recent Economic Research Service report showed that less healthy foods tend to have a low price per calorie, increasing the difficulty of adding fresh fruits and vegetables into American diets. However, a price study conducted by students at Seattle University showed that most vegetables sold at the farmers market had lower if not comparable prices to their grocery store. Further, in 74% of the communities examined in Anthony Flaccavento’s price comparison study of Appalachia and the Southeast, produce was less expensive at farmers markets compared to supermarkets, on average by 22%. One cost advantage that farmers markets offer is the ability to buy fresh food in bulk at the height of the season and preserve or freeze for later use when the product would otherwise be more expensive, hard to find, or of lower quality.
When I shop at a farmers market, where does my money go?
At a farmers market, you hand your money to the person who grew or made the products in front of you. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, more than 130,000 agricultural entrepreneurs are selling quality products directly to the people eating them. In 2005, such direct sales at farmers markets exceeded $1 billion nationwide. A series of case studies by Civic Economics shows that for every dollar we spend at a large chain, about 15 cents stays in the area, while locally owned enterprises like farms trap 30 to 45 cents. Boise, Idaho’s Capital City Public Market generated an estimated $4.5 million in economic activity for the local economy in 2011 and in Iowa, thanks to the efforts of the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, sales of local food by farmers in northeast Iowa rose from less than $10,000 in 2006 to over $2 million by 2010. The majority of the money spent at markets, and the jobs that come with it, stay in the communities where the markets are located. The 52 producers of the Williamsburg Farmers Market in Virginia generated an estimated $48,969.84 in state sales tax in 2011, supporting the state economy. 32 percent of Crescent City Farmers Market shoppers in New Orleans report spending money at nearby businesses, resulting in $3.2 million in projected gross receipts and an annual contribution of $151,621 to local sales tax revenue.
How does shopping at a farmers market help my local economy?
Farmers markets generate business, and business creates jobs. A 2011 Economic Research Service report found that fruit and vegetable farms selling into local and regional markets employ 13 full-time workers per $1 million in revenue earned, for a total of 61,000 jobs in 2008. Comparatively, fruit and vegetable farms that are not selling locally employed only three full-time workers per $1 million in revenue.
Farmers markets also bring business to neighboring stores and communities where the market is located. Spending money at farmers markets keeps your money in circulation within the local community, preserving and creating local jobs. A 2010 study of the Easton Farmers Market in Pennsylvania, for example, found that 70% of farmers market customers are also shopping at downtown businesses, spending up to an extra $26,000 each week. This is very different from many major grocery stores where a large percentage of sales leave the community, and possibly even the state or the region. A Virginia Cooperative Extension report showed if households in Southern Virginia spent 15 percent of their weekly food budget on locally grown food products, $90 million in new farm income would be created for the region.
How has the current economic crisis impacted farmers markets?
Despite the recession, farmers markets are booming. As spring markets were opening for the 2009 season, FMC members in Alabama, Washington DC, California, New York, and Washington State reported record customer counts and record sales. The Food Marketing Institute found that local and sustainable foods were a top buying trend for 2009. Economist Ken Meter of Crossroads Resource Center notes that, as a business model, farmers markets are inherently flexible, which offers them protection from drastic economic changes. “They can adjust price and adjust their product to get consumers’ needs met. Retailers and big stores with big overheads and big expenses can’t do that.”
What happens to food left over at farmers markets?
Most vendors have a good sense of how much will sell on any given market day, and prepare for it accordingly. However, if there are leftovers at the end of market, vendors are ready to recycle unsold produce into value-added products. For instance, excess tomatoes become tomato sauce and apples become apple cider. Unsaleable produce can be composted to return nutrients back to the farmers’ fields. In addition, many markets also have donation arrangements with local food banks, soup kitchens, and other social service agencies. Farmers at seven farmers markets making up the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance in Seattle donated 44,000 pounds of fresh, local, quality produce to food banks in 2011. Through a partnership with a local health food store, farmers at the Webb City Farmers Market in Missouri donated enough fresh produce to serve 4,000 vegetarian and vegan meals to tornado relief volunteers working in the heat after the Joplin tornado last May. These are just a few examples of the ways farmers give back to the communities that host their markets.
How do farmers markets preserve farmland?
As the number of markets grow around the country, so do the number of farmers. For instance, Alabama had 17 registered farmers markets in 1999, involving 234 farmers. Fewer than ten years later (2008), there were 102 farmers markets involving 1,064 farmers in the same state. This means that with the help of farmers markets, hundreds of farmers choose to stay in agriculture over another profession, thereby helping to preserve Alabama’s farmland and rural traditions. Further, farmers markets allow young farmers to network and learn from more experienced farmers. The Webb City Farmers Market runs a mentoring program that partners their most experienced growers as well as state extension horticulturists with younger farmers who want to improve quality and production practices. “Last week our inspection team visited three farms and saw, for the first time, drip irrigation in action on those farms”, says Eileen Nichols, Market Manager. “Before starting the mentoring program, they either had no water in the fields or were trying to use small sprinklers.”
Seven Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance (NFMA) markets in Seattle support 9,491 acres of farmland in diversified production, stewarding natural resources rather than selling out to industrial residential development. “This represents a four-fold increase in the last ten years,” says NFMA Executive Director Chris Curtis. Even smaller markets nationwide champion acreage in the hundreds, such as Georgia’s Lilburn Farmers Market, which supports 10 farms stewarding 500 acres of farmland.
Chicago’s Green City Market, established in 1999, required that all of its 2012 vendors possess one of eight third-party certifications. Nearly half of the 44 farmers chose the USDA Organic Certification, ensuring clarity for consumers regarding chemical usage and contributing to the long-term health of farmland. Believed to be the first of its kind to require such production-practice certification, the Green City Market serves as a model for new markets and farmers alike.
I love my farmers market. What can I do to support it?
Purchasing as much as you can from your community’s farmers market is the simplest way to demonstrate your support. Some markets have “friends of…” programs where you can contribute directly to the market’s operation and support its educational programs. Others may be recruiting neighborhood volunteers or providers of in-kind design, writing, or bookkeeping services. Just ask the market manager how you can help best. You can also support the Farmers Market Coalition’s national efforts to strengthen farmers markets (through education, leadership development, National Farmers Market Week, and other technical assistance programs) by making a secure on-line donation.
These FAQs were developed in collaboration with USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.
Sources and Other Resources
Bendfeldt, Eric S., Walker, Martha, Bunn, Travis, Martin, Lisa, Barrow, Melanie. Virginia Cooperative Extension. May 2011. A Community-Based Food System: Building Health, Wealth, Connection, and Capacity as the Foundation of Our Economic Future. http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/3306/3306-9029/3306-9029-PDF.pdf
Claro, Jake. January 2011. Vermont Farmers’ Markets and Grocery Stores: A Price Comparison. Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. http://nofavt.org/pricestudy
Diamond, A. and R. Soto. 2009. Facts on Direct-to-Consumer Food Marketing Incorporating Data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture. USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.
Farmers’ Markets Today. 2008. Farmers’ market statistics: March 2008 survey results. Available at http://www.farmersmarketstoday.com
Feenstra, Gail W., Lewis, Christopher C., Hinrichs, Clare C., Gillespie Jr, Gilbert W., and Hilchey, Duncan. Entrepreneurial Outcomes and Enterprise Size in US Retail Farmers Markets. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture 18:46-55 (2003): 8. Cambridge Journals, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=4430732,
Flaccavento, Anthony. November 2011. Is Local Food Affordable for Ordinary Folks?: A comparison of Farmers Markets and Supermarkets in Nineteen Communities in the Southeast. SCALE, Inc. http://www.ruralscale.com/resources/farmers-market-study.
Flournoy, Rebecca. Healthy Food, Healthy Communities: Promising Strategies to Improve Access to Fresh, Healthy Food and Transform Communities. Policy Link 2011. http://www.policylink.org/atf/cf/%7B97c6d565-bb43-406d-a6d5-eca3bbf35af0%7D/HFHC_FINAL.PDF.
Food Routes Network. 2003. Plant Your Dollars Close to Home and Watch Your Community Grow. Available at http://www.foodroutes.org/whycare3.jsp.
Food Marketing Institute.Grocery Shopper Trends 2009: Recession Changing Consumers Shopping Behavior at the Supermarket. Press Release, May 14, 2009.
Gaudette, K. June 4, 2007. Farmers Market Food Costs Less, Class Finds. The Seattle Times. Available at: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003733548_farmers04.html
GrowNYC Greenmarket. 2012. Healthy Food, Healthy City: Greenmarket EBT 2011 Progress Report. http://www.grownyc.org/files/gmkt/EBT/2011EBTReport.pdf.
Henneberry, S.R., H.N. Agustini, M. Taylor, J.E. Mutundo, B. Whitacre, and B.W. Roberts. 2008. The Economic Impacts of direct Produce Marketing: A Case Study of Oklahoma’s Farmers’ Markets. Paper presented at the SAEA annual meeting, Dallas TX, 2-6 February.
Herman, Dena R. et al. January 2008. Effect of a Targeted Subsidy on Intake of Fruits and Vegetables Among Low-income Women in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. American Journal of Public Health (Vol 98, No 1).
Hoffman, Gretchen. April 2011. Farmers Markets by the Numbers. American Farmland Trust. http://blog.farmland.org/2011/04/farmers-markets-by-the-numbers/
Hughes, D.W., C. Brown, S. Miller , and T. McConnell. April 2008. Evaluating the Economic Impact of Farmers’ Markets Using an Opportunity Cost Framework. Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics.
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. 2010. Electronic Benefits at Three Farmers Markets in Minneapolis: An Analysis of the 2010 Pilot Program. Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support. http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/dhfs/2010_EBT_Analysis.pdf.
Jilcott SB, Wade S, McGuirt JT. April 2011. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. The association between the food environment and weight status among eastern North Carolina youth. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21486525.
Jones-Ellard, Sam. Winter Markets. USDA Agricultural Marketing Services. http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateU&navID=LatestReleases&page=Newsroom&topNav=Newsroom&leftNav=&rightNav1=LatestReleases&rightNav2=&resultT ype=Details&dDocName=STELPRDC5088047&dID=141412&wf=false&description=USDA+Hig
Jones, Stacey. 2010. Farmers Market Price Comparison Study. Capitol Hill Seattle. http://www.capitolhillseattle.com/media/fooddrink/2010/6/16/2010HANDOUT.pdf
Love, Drew. 2010. Farmers Market SNAP Sales Soar in 2010. Farmers Market Coalition. https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/snap-sales-soar-2010.
McCarthy, Richard. 2010. Evaluating the Social, Financial, and Human Capital Impacts of Farmers Markets. Market Umbrella. http://www.marketumbrella.org/uploads/Evaluating_farmers_markets.pdf
Missouri Department of Agriculture. July 2012. Harvest on Wheels volunteers from Springfield, Mo. recognized with joint award. http://mda.mo.gov/news/2012/Dept_of_Agriculture_Names_2012_Farmers_Market_Champions.
Mitchell, Stacy. Independent Business. Key Studies on Big-Box Retail and Independent Business. July 2012. http://www.ilsr.org/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail/#1.
Morales, Alfonso. Marketplaces: Prospects for Social, Economic, and Political Development. Journal of Planning Literature 26:3 (2011): Sociable City. http://www.sociablecity.org/assets/documents/MultiUseSidewalks/marketplaces%20-%20prospects%20for%20social%20economic%20and%20political%20development.pdf.
Myles, Albert. Hood, Ken (2010). Economic Impact of Farmers Markets in Mississippi. MSU Cares. http://msucares.com/pubs/publications/p2582.pdf
Newvine, Colleen. Michigan University School of Agricultre. The Market Report. LSA Magazine: Spring 2012. http://www.lsa.umich.edu/UMICH/alumni/Home/LSA%20Magazine/LSA%20Magazine%20Archive/2012%20Spring/12spr-p10-15.pdf.
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygeine. November 2011. Health Bucks. http://www.center-trt.org/downloads/obesity_prevention/interventions/healthbucks/NYC_Health_Bucks.pdf
Oberholtzer, L., Moyer, B., Berry, J., Fogarty-Harnish, P.. March 2012. PennState College of Agricultural Sciences. Pennsylvania Farmers Markets: Summary Results of 2011 Assistance Needs, Food Safety, and MarketPe Performance. http://agmarketing.extension.psu.edu/pdf/pa_mrkt_mgt_survey_6_12.pdf.
Otto, D. and T. Varner. 2005 Consumers, Vendors, and the Economic Importance of Iowa Farmers Markets: An Economic Impact Survey Analysis. Ames, IA: Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University.
Piro, Rich, McCann, Nick. December 2009. Is Local Food More Expensive? A Consumer Price Perspective on Local and Non-Local Foods Purchased in Iowa. Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubs/staff/prices/prices.pdf.
Ragland, E. and D. Tropp. 2009. USDA National Farmers Market Manager Survey 2006. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service. Available at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5077203&acct=wdmgeninfo
Roper, Natalie. January 2012. SNAP Redemptions at Farmers Markets Exceed $11 Million in 2011. Farmers Market Coalition. https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/snap-redemptions-at-farmers-markets-exceed-11m-in-2011/.
Seattle University. February 2012. Pricing Data Collected by Seattle University Statistics Students. http://images.bimedia.net/documents/2012FebruaryUniversityDistrictprices(SU).pdf.
Shuman, Michael H. 2006. Small-Mart Revolution Checklists. Available at http://www.small-mart.org/files/SMChecklists-Patriots.pdf.
USDA. National Agricultural Statistics Service. 2007. 2007 Census of Agriculture. http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Online_Highlights/Fact_Sheets/Demographics/demographics.pdf.
USDA. 2008. Number of farmers markets continues to rise in U.S. AMS No. 173-08, Washington, DC: AMS.
USDA. 2008. 2006 Farmers Market Survey: Highlights at the National Farmers Market Summit. Baltimore, MD, November 2007.
USDA. Economic Research Service. 2010. Comparing the Structure, Size, and Performance of Local and Mainstream Food Supply Chains. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err99.aspx.
USDA. Economic Research Service. 2011. A Revised and Expanded Food Dollar Series: A Better Understanding of Our Food Costs. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err114.aspx.
USDA. Economic Research Service. November 2011. Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err128.aspx.
USDA. 2012. Farmers Market Services. Agricultural Marketing Services. http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5080175
USDA. Economic Research Service. May 2012. Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends on How you Measure the Price. http://ers.usda.gov/media/600474/eib96_1_.pdf.
USDA. Food and Nutrition Service. 2012. WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, FY 2011 Profile. Available at http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/FMNP/FMNP2011.htm.
USDA. Food & Nutrition Services. 2012. Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program Profile – FY 2010. http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/SeniorFMNP/SFMNPFY2011Profile.htm
USDA. Food & Nutrition Services. July 2012. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Current Participation. http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/29snapcurrpp.htm.
Woolf, Art. 2011. Small Potatoes? Vermont Tiger. http://www.vermonttiger.com/content/2011/05/small-potatoes.html
Wholesome Wave. June 2012. Double Value Coupon Program: 2011 Outcomes. http://wholesomewave.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Double-Value-Coupon-Program-2011-Outcomes.pdf.
2010. Hunterdon Land Trust Farmers’ Market Benefits Local Economy Over $2.6 Million Impact. Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance. http://www.hlta.org/Farmers’_Market_Economic_Survey_Results.pdf.