USDA ranks North Carolina 10th for number of farmers markets

Published 12:19 pm Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Polk County sees growth first-hand

North Carolina ranked 10th for the number of farmers markets in the country, according to an announcement made Aug. 5 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the growth of markets across the nation.

Mill Spring Agriculture Center director Lynn Sprague said he’s encouraged by the increased interest from both farmers and consumers.

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“We’ve been doing really well in terms of our market locally. We had 48 vendors last week and we’ve been as high as 54. In terms of Western North Carolina that’s about the third largest,” Sprague said. “People have really gravitated to the idea of connecting with the people who grow what they are eating and that’s exciting.”

North Carolina recorded 217 markets this past year. California came in on top of the list with 729 markets.

“The remarkable growth in farmers markets is an excellent indicator of the staying power of local and regional foods,” Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said in a release. “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.”

More than 1,000 new farmers markets were recorded across the country this year, indicating a 17 percent growth rate. The USDA’s 2011 National Farmers Market Directory indicates a total of 7,175 farmers markets operate throughout the United States as more farmers are marketing their products directly to consumers.

“It used to be kind of more of a fad and got confused a bit with the organic food movement,” Sprague said. “But more people are saying they at least want to know where their food is coming from and that it’s not from Chile or somewhere else where it has to travel 3,000 miles to get here.”

Last year, the USDA reported 6,132 markets. Alaska and Texas ranked at the top for most growth in farmers markets at 46 and 38 percent, respectively.
Sprague said in terms of North Carolina, there has been a lot more energy behind the growth of farmers markets in urban areas like Raleigh-Durham and Chapel Hill. But he said some of the smaller communities have also jumped on board.

“What’s kind of unique here is that we’re not an urban core, but we still have a thriving market,” Sprague said. “We have a lot of retirees who have moved here that keep up a solid market. They seek out the markets because many of them don’t necessarily know a farmer to grab squash from when it comes into season. So it creates an avenue for socialization for them as well.”

This week began National Farmers Market Week, which takes place Aug. 7 – Aug. 13.