|For the week of May 24, 2004|
Farmers Markets: A Whole Other Way of Farming
Pickled. Smoked. Baked. Grown. Reared. Caught. Brewed. Even processed. A farmers market has something for everyone, whether it be fresh produce or just good ol insight into farming.
The concept of direct selling of agricultural products to the public is almost as old as farming itself. And with increased concerns about nutrition, not to mention a mounting interest in buying fresh goods straight from the farm, farmers markets have become very popular in recent years. According to the Agriculture Department, the number of farmers markets increased 79 percent from 1994 to 2002. Today there are more than 3,000 markets operating throughout the United States.
Farmers markets serve as a bridge between farmers and urbanites. They actually revitalize downtown areas, says Long Island farmer and Farm Bureau member Ethel Terry, who with her husband has been participating in farmers markets for nearly 15 years. Consumers dont have an opportunity to come out to local farm stands, so we bring it to them, she says.
And bring it to them she does. Terry travels hundreds of miles each week coordinating 12 markets in Nassau and Suffolk counties for the Long Island Growers Market. She and her husband Fred also participate in a market in New York City and use to sell at the World Trade Center market where they lost all of their equipment on Sept. 11.
The Terrys started selling their goods through farmers markets when they couldnt make ends meet by selling wholesale. Once they cut out the middleman and sold solely through the farmers market, they were able to recoup their costs, sell their products for five times as much, cut down on production acres and diversify their crops. It is a whole other way of farming, says Terry, who now grows 54 different types of vegetables.
The Terrys arent alone. According to USDA, 19,000 farmers sell their produce only through farmers markets. And it is those small farm operators, with less than $250,000 in annual receipts-94 percent of all farms-who benefit the most.
Consumers benefit, too. Customers have direct access to local products and face-to-face time with the farmers who produce the goods. Local farmers markets also help their communities by boosting the economy. And, USDA statistics show 25 percent of markets participate in gleaning programs that aid local food banks in the distribution of food to needy families.
Appreciative customers in turn look out for their local farmers, in many cases only purchasing produce and other products from their farmers market.
Regulars become our personal friends, says Terry.
We know their names, their grandchildrens names
wont find that at a grocery store.
Tracy Taylor Grondine is director of news services for American Farm Bureau Federation.