Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Growth Or Glut? A Thousand New Farmers Markets in 2011

In 2011, 7175 farmers markets operated in the U.S., up from 6139 in 2010. Locavores love it, but some farmers call it too much of a good thing.

A farmers market stall selling melons, peaches, onions, and many other kinds of produce. People are lined up around the stall to make purchases.

Photo: NatalieMaynor (flickr)

Farmers markets are making healthy, local food available in more and more communities, but some farmers are saying that too much growth is bad for business.

The Market Census

A bit of good news for locavores frustrated by this year of rough farming weather and high food prices: The USDA’s annual report indicates that there have been 7,175 farmers markets operating in the United States this year.

This is a growth of 17 percent from last year, when 6,139 markets operated across the country.

The USDA’s farmers market directory is updated through voluntary reporting from farmers market managers. It’s possible that even more unreported markets exist.

Topping The Charts

Alaska and Texas saw the greatest increases in terms of percentage. Alaska now has 35 markets, an increase of 46 percent from 2010, while Texas has 166, up 38 percent. Earth Eats’s home state of Indiana saw the fifth-greatest increase of the country, with 171 markets and an increase of 37 percent from 2010. California still has the most farmers markets of any state, with 729.

12 percent of farmers markets in the USDA’s directories accept SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) on-site, a 16 percent increase from 2010.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan says that the growth in farmers markets is “an excellent indicator of the staying power of local and regional foods.”

These outlets provide economic benefits for producers to grow their businesses and also to communities by providing increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables and other foods. In short, they are a critical ingredient in our nation’s food system.

Local Market, Local Food, Local Money

Locavores have long trumpeted the power of buying local food to stimulate local economies.

As of 2009, more than a dozen studies had shown that every dollar spent at a locally-owned business generated two to four times the income, jobs and wealth than a dollar spent at a nonlocal business.

A new report further supports that claim, stating that “modest public support for up to 500 farmers markets each year could create as many as 13,500 jobs over a five-year period.”

Feeding The Deserts

The Farmers Market Coalition reports that at least 100 new markets opened since 2005 are in food deserts.

Because more and more markets are also now accepting SNAP benefits, the Coalition also asserts that these markets are providing an essential service to communities that currently lack access to healthy local foods.

Farmers market aficionados also point out that the increased demand for farmers markets probably reflects an increased desire for healthy foods. (Perhaps Americans are working to take hold of the obesity problem that plagues the United States.)

Growth Or Glut?

Criticism of the farmers markets’ rapid nationwide growth is coming from an unlikely source: Farmers.

Many farmers are complaining that the number of markets are thinning out the customer base of each individual market. As a result, farmers must add new markets to their rotation, increasing hours they must spend away from their farms as well as employee hours.

Both urban and rural areas previously served by a single market are often now served by several markets. The new, small markets often draw regular customers away from the older, larger, more established ones.

“We have this mentality of, oh, we have a Starbucks on every corner, so why can’t we have a farmers market?” says Brigitte Moran, executive director of Marin Markets in San Rafael, California.

“The difference is these farmers actually have to grow it and drive it to the market.”

Read More:

  • More than 1,000 New Farmers Markets Recorded Across Country As USDA Directory Reveals 17% Growth (USDA)
  • As Farmers Markets Boom, Some See A Glut In The Making (New York Times)
Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon has been interested in food ethics since she was 15, learned about industrial slaughter, and launched into 10 years of vegetarianism. These days, she strives to be a conscientious omnivore. Now a PhD candidate in folklore, her research has caused her to spend a lot of time in the remote Canadian sub-arctic, where the lake trout (sustainably harvested) tastes amazing.

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