In a recent report released by the USDA, the agency announced that the number of farmers markets across the country has increased from 1,744 in 1994 to nearly 8,000 presently—a 9.6 percent growth over 2011.
Health experts and advocates including First Lady Michelle Obama have been vocal about the benefits of shopping at local farmers markets in efforts to combat the nation’s ongoing battle with obesity. But the benefits don’t stop there: Locally grown fruits and vegetables can cost considerably less than items imported from other regions. And in supporting farmers directly, small family-owned independent businesses are able to thrive in a post-recession economy dominated by industrial agriculture.
The Huffington Post reports about Unger Farms, a berry operation in Oregon that has seen a direct impact in its vulnerable business as a result of farmers markets.
Once selling berries to canneries for an abysmally low price, the Ungers took out a line of credit to plant blueberries, which they sold at a local farmers market for more than three times what they were paid by the canneries. Now, as much as 80 percent of the Unger’s produce is sold through area farmers markets. Kathy Unger told the Huffington Post, “We were struggling and they kept expanding the number of markets and we kept expanding with them and so we were able to keep this first 80 acres that we originally bought and keep farming it.”
Many farmers markets in the U.S. are now accepting food stamps and several have begun a pilot program that accepts ‘prescription’ vouchers to help lower-income families with health problems have access to fresh produce. And the markets themselves are providing jobs for many of the nation’s unemployed. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, farmers markets could create 13,500 jobs over five years.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger