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Farmers Markets Surge In Popularity Across The US

Photo Courtesy USDA

Farmers markets are regular or seasonal gatherings where growers and suppliers sell local and sustainable products. Though the tradition dates back as far as ancient Egypt, its popularity in the United States has blossomed thanks to the spread of community health consciousness and the desire for more local and sustainable products. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as of 2019, there are more than 8,700 farmers markets in the country.

Photo Courtesy USDA

According to the Covent Garden Market blog, farmers markets originated in Egypt more than 5,000 years ago. The first operations in the U.S. date back to the 1600s. In those early years, purchases were often by trade rather than via money, and goods were usually valued by weight. 

The markets were the primary means for urban customers to access meats, dairy, and fresh produce. They were also significant economic ventures, with farmers and craftspeople setting up their products and wares while attracting many patrons to city centers looking for the best food and goods.  

The traditional market took a hit in suburban and smaller towns with the advent of the grocery store and supermarket.

However, in the first decades of the 21st century, the concept has had a resurgence, with even small towns and suburban areas clamoring for fresh, sustainable products from local sellers.

 Photo Courtesy USDA

This resurgence isn’t just due to the popular desire for greater sustainability — including less travel time for food products. There is also an expanded desire for nutritious foods and a rebirth of a more healthy consciousness in the American public. Shoppers are turning to local markets because they trust them for organic, pesticide- and chemical-free produce.

Farmers markets are not only fun but also healthy, economically wise, and more sustainable than shopping at a national chain grocery store. A 2015 Kaiser Permanente fact sheet cited a Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development survey that found that 74% of Kaiser Permanente market patrons reported eating more vegetables and fruits after visiting the market. 

The markets are also an economic boon for local areas. According to a Frisco Fresh Market blog, when a person purchases products, their money goes straight into a local grower’s business and ultimately creates a boost throughout the local economy. The markets also foster a great sense of community.

Photo Courtesy USDA

Markets are also often part of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) models. These cooperatives originated in Japan in the 1960s by a group of women concerned with pesticide usage and the loss of farmers and farmland. According to North Carolina State University, the concept came to the U.S. in the early 80s, and as of 2021, there are more than 2,500 CSAs nationwide. 

After joining a CSA, consumers buy shares of a farm’s harvest in advance. This upfront payment helps buy supplies needed for the season and provides the farmer with an immediate income to begin the season. In this way, members share the production risk and help cut farmers’ marketing costs.

The federal government is doing its part to encourage all Americans to visit farmers markets. Thanks to USDA support, operations in all 50 states accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Photo Courtesy USDA

The popularity of farmers markets is growing, a trend that will only increase American health and sustainability. They are a win-win for consumers, suppliers, and regional economies by improving physical and economic access to local, healthy foods and supporting local farmers and businesses. 

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