WASHINGTON, Aug. 4–  The number of farmer’s markets grew 17 percent since 2010, according to results released today in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2011 National Farmers Market Directory, with a total of more than 7,000 across the U.S.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said during a conference call Friday that more than 1,000 new markets exist since last year, with growth stemming from consumer’s desire for farm-fresh food, the availability of grant money from USDA and the increased ability for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) purchases at markets. 

“The remarkable growth in farmers markets is an excellent indicator of the staying power of local and regional foods,” she said. “I think farmer’s markets are growing in response to consumer demands. There are things you can get at a farmer’s market that you just can’t get at a grocery store.”

The USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) allocated $10 million in grants for Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012. Merrigan said that at least 10 percent of these dollars had to facilitate markets’ EDT machines, which can scan SNAP cards. In 2010, SNAP customers made more than 453,000 purchases at farmer’s markets, with an average purchase amount of $16.

Of the total number of farmers’ markets reported by market managers, almost 12 percent indicated they have the capability to accept SNAP benefits onsite, which represents a 16 percent increase in the number of markets accepting SNAP benefits since 2010. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service also reported that SNAP redemptions in 2010 totaled $7.5 million at all certified farmers’ markets and direct-to-consumer food retail establishments.

Merrigan also mentioned a number of independent foundations that “double up” the redemption value of SNAP purchases at certain farmers markets. One example is the Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program, which “matches” SNAP food assistance benefits spent at participating farmers’ markets in Michigan and Toledo.

Merrigan said that market customers made a total of approximately $200,000 in SNAP purchases in double up programs since June 1 of this year.

“There is a yearning in this country for a reconnection to the farm,” she said. “We need to find better ways to facilitate farmers’ markets. People are looking for better infrastructure, better hours for markets and longer seasons.”

The growing popularity of farmers’ markets is boosted by the new MyPlate dietary recommendations, as well as the sense of community available at markets, Merrigan said. The challenge to meet consumers’ increased produce demand is one that specialty crop farmers face. This challenge can be met, Merrigan said, through intensive production and urban agriculture, as well as considering the use of crop acreage through USDA subsidies. 

The market listings in the Agricultural Marketing Service’s annual report were reported by farmers’ market managers on a voluntary basis between April 18 and June 24, 2011. Directory results were released in advance of National Farmers Market Week, Aug. 7 to 13, as declared by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

The USDA National Farmers Market Directory is available at http://farmersmarkets.usda.gov/.

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