There are few better places to buy summer vegetables, fresh cheese curds and homemade baked goods than Wisconsin, which has the eighth-most farmers markets of any state in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture this summer has put the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison in the spotlight. The market held on the square surrounding the state Capitol is the largest producer-only farmers market in the country, meaning all of the roughly 160 vendors must grow or make their own products. They can’t sell items purchased from others.
The market serves as an example “of how farmers markets can be a huge success for the local economy and the farmers and consumers,” said Anne Alonzo, who leads USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
Nationwide, the number of farmers markets registered with the USDA has grown from about 3,700 a decade ago to 8,268 this year. In Wisconsin, the number of markets has grown from 170 to 295 in that time.
Here are a few other things to know about farmers markets and the USDA’s efforts to promote sales of locally produced food:
• “THE FACE OF AGRICULTURE”
Alonzo describes farmers markets as “the face of agriculture,” with 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide selling directly to consumers.
“I think the best part is that these farmers markets help local economies because the food is produced, it’s processed, it’s distributed and it’s sold there, and so it stays in the local economy and the money stays there, leading to what we believe is strong economic development and job creation,” she said.
• FIND A FARMERS MARKET OR CSA
Alonzo has been in Wisconsin in part to promote the USDA’s online National Farmers Market Directory, which consumers can use to find markets near them. The agency plans to launch a similar directory of community-supported agriculture, or CSA, programs next year.
CSAs typically provide weekly deliveries of produce and other products, such as eggs or honey, to people who buy season-long subscriptions.
“We think there’s a lot of benefits to both farmers and consumers vis-a-vis CSAs,” Alonzo said. “Farmers can distribute their products during the hours that work for them, and they receive payment for the products early in the season, which helps the farms’ economic planning. And this gives consumers access to ... a wide variety of fresh, local food.”
More than 12,000 farms nationwide offered CSAs last year, she said.
• FOOD HUBS
The next big thing in the local food movement is likely to be the growth of food hubs, where farmers who can’t make deliveries or aren’t interested in marketing can bring food to be packaged and sold. The number of food hubs nationwide has doubled since 2009 to more than 300.
The USDA is working to put together a directory of them as well.
“We’re really excited about these new business models,” Alonzo said. She added, “I think it’s a win-win. It’s a win for the farmers, it’s a win for the food hub and it’s a win for consumers because ... it makes a lot of sense.”
USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory: http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets