This week marks the15th Annual National Farmers Market Week, where we celebrate the abundance of summer and the farmers and ranchers who make it possible.
USDA has identified strengthening local food systems as one of the four pillars of rural economic development. Nationwide, local food is one of the fastest growing segments of agriculture. The 2012 Census of Agriculture indicates that 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling their products directly to consumers, often through farmers markets. Through the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA is making a historic investment of more than $78 million to support farmers markets and local and regional food systems.
As State Executive Director of Kentucky, I have seen firsthand how farmers markets here in Kentucky are helping to support family farms and grow local economies. They bring communities together, connecting cities with the farms that support them and provide KY with fresh, healthy food. The Commonwealth has over 155 farmers’ markets and well in excess of 2,500 vendors. In honor of this week and Kentucky’s farmers and ranchers, here are my top five reasons to shop at a farmers market this week (and every week):
1. You’re buying local. Farmers markets bring benefits not only to producers, but to consumers and our local communities as well. When local food marketing opportunities exist for rural producers, they cause ripple effects throughout the rural economy. Farms and ranches buy fertilizer and seed, invest in farm machinery, contract the services of custom operators, and support local businesses like restaurants and retailers. Growth in these areas leads to new demand for community services like schools and hospitals, which in turn leads to jobs.
2. Strong local economies! This segment of agriculture is a vibrant growth area that is drawing young people back to rural communities, generating jobs, and improving quality of life. Spending our hard earned money with local businesses helps support Kentucky’s economy, ensures that more of every food dollar ends up back in a farmers’ pocket, and helps keep that money circulating in Kentucky.
3. Farmers markets are easy to find. The USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory now lists 8,268 markets across the country, a 76 percent increase since 2008. Here in Kentucky, the number of farmers markets has grown to over 155. You can find a farmers market near you by typing in your zip code at www.farmersmarkets.usda.gov.
4. Talk about options. Farmers markets offer a wide variety of fresh, affordable, convenient and healthy products sold directly from the farm. You can find ideas for how to use your purchases at www.whatscooking.fns.usda.gov.
5. They take plastic. In addition to accepting cash, many farmers markets now take advantage of mobile card readers and can accept credit cards, nutrition program benefits and even gift cards. The directory at www.farmersmarkets.usda.gov lists payment options available at each market.
For more information on National Farmers Market Week and what USDA is doing to support farmers and ranchers in Kentucky, visit www.usda.gov/knowyourfarmer.
John W. McCauley is the Kentucky Farm Service Agency State Executive Director.