Rural Revival: Farmers Markets Offer a Bright Future in Farming

By: Liz Comiskey       Posted On: August 1, 2012

For Immediate Release
Contact: Elizabeth Comiskey
August 11, 2012

Farmers Market Coalition Celebrates Farmers and Farmland During National Farmers Market Week

As the U.S. economy recovers from a period of uncertainty and concern, farmers markets bolster rural America and help a new generation of farmers guide their businesses into a bright and sustainable future.

United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack proclaimed August 5-11, 2012 as National Farmers Market Week.  Since 2000, the number of farmers markets has grown over 170%, from 2,863 markets in 2000 to more than 7,800 in 2012. This expansion, coupled with higher market standards, innovation, and the continued growth of small farms, helps to ensure the long-term economic health of the nation’s rural communities and young agricultural entrepreneurs.

As new farmers markets continue to pop up all over the nation, pre-existing markets raise the bar by holding merchants to higher standards. 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.

Innovative efforts are underway to help farmers better connect with local consumers at farmers markets. Rural markets are increasingly capable of serving a large and more diverse audience thanks to strong support and fresh ideas that keep dollars circulating in the local economy.

  • In July 2012, Illinois Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon and USDA Administrator Audrey Rowe announced that 50 state markets will receive free wireless debit/credit card machines, easing market payment and allowing one in three markets to accept food stamp benefits for the first time. Rowe says, “We have Illinois farmers who now have new markets for their products. Farmers markets support [the] rural economy. They provide access to healthy foods. They foster economic development.”
  • Approximately 25% of vendors at farmers markets derive their sole source of farm income from farmers market sales. Localized research also reveals that incomes earned by vendors at farmers markets are considerable and are important to their livelihoods.
  • 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.

The 2007 Census of Agriculture found that U.S. farmers older than 55 operate more than half of the country’s farmland, but increasing numbers of young growers are forging professional partnerships with these retiring farmers thanks to connections made through local networking. Farmers markets provide a unique incubator for interaction between generations and help to perpetuate the nation’s agricultural traditions.

Chris Curtis, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance and board member of the national Farmers Market Coalition, says “I’ve seen a new younger generation of professional farmers emerge at our city’s farmers markets.  They are passionate entrepreneurs and farmers markets give them an opportunity to ensure that farmland and open space will stay intact for generations to come.”


Seven Days, Seven Ways to Celebrate Farmers Market Impacts

Innovative partnerships that allow markets to serve as hubs of information

Promoting good nutrition and healthful habits

Business incubation, job development, and local spending

Governance and policies that put farmers first

Improving access to healthful foods in underserved neighborhoods  

Growing social capital and engaging volunteers

Supporting agricultural diversity and farm viability, while inspiring a new generation of producers


The Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to strengthening farmers markets for the benefit of farmers, consumers, and communities.

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