USDA: Number of farmers markets up due to demand

TRACIE CONE
The Associated Press
Modified: August 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm •  Published: August 21, 2012
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photo - FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2010, file photo, Ching Thao, of Mao's Farm, center, gives change to Richard Wolk, right, at the Vineyard Farmers Market in Fresno, Calif. Pushed by the rising popularity of eating locally and healthily, the number of farmers markets climbed by 9.6 per cent nationally over the past year, according to the USDA. There now are more than 7,800 markets in the U.S. after 18 years of steady increases, according to a report to be announced Friday. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2010, file photo, Ching Thao, of Mao's Farm, center, gives change to Richard Wolk, right, at the Vineyard Farmers Market in Fresno, Calif. Pushed by the rising popularity of eating locally and healthily, the number of farmers markets climbed by 9.6 per cent nationally over the past year, according to the USDA. There now are more than 7,800 markets in the U.S. after 18 years of steady increases, according to a report to be announced Friday. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian, File)

FRESNO, Calif. — As demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables has increased, so too has the number of urban farmers markets sprouting up across the nation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced recently that the number of direct-sales markets has increased 9.6 percent in the past year, with California and New York leading the way.

"Farmers markets are a critical ingredient to our nation's food system," USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said. "These outlets provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also to the communities looking for fresh, healthy foods."

After 18 years of steady increases, the number of farmers markets across the country now registered with the USDA is 7,864. In 1994, there were 1,744.

Organizations such as Slow Food, founded in 1989 to counter fast-food, junk-food lifestyles, first ignited consumer demand for fresh, local produce.

"My husband and I prefer to eat locally and organically," said Tracy Stuntz, a college instructor who shops at the Vineyard Farmer's Market in Fresno. "You go to the grocery store and everything is the same. The farmer's market has yellow zucchini and green onions that are like a foot long — produce you don't see other places."

Some markets are so popular that there are wait lists for farmers to sell there, including one of the largest and most diverse of all, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco. Farmers from across the region travel there three days a week to sell fruits, vegetables and artisan breads and cheeses to thousands of shoppers, including top chefs from the food-centric city.

Operated by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, the iconic market on the San Francisco Bay is celebrating its 20th birthday.

"When we started there were only three markets in the city, and now there are 29," said Liz Hunt, a center spokeswoman.

Grant Brians of Heirloom Organic Gardens sells more than 200 old-fashioned varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruit grown on two farms in San Benito County, about 100 miles south of San Francisco. Others bring in stone fruits from the San Joaquin Valley, and berries from the coast.



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