WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2014 - It's National Farmers Market Week and USDA is celebrating by announcing that the number of these popular outlets for locally grown food is growing rapidly.

Anne Alonzo, the head of USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, said that at last count there were 8,268 farmers markets in the U.S., a 76 percent increase from 2008. She made the announcement over the weekend at the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wisconsin, the largest market in the country where all the goods on offer are produced by the vendors.

Alonzo also promoted a USDA searchable directory of farmers markets as a “valuable tool with up-to-date information about farmers markets nationwide.” And she said the department is developing three new directories “that illustrate how local foods systems continue to offer America's farmers and ranchers new business opportunities.”

The Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) Enterprise Directory will list farms or farm networks that offer delivery of locally-grown products; the Food Hub Directory will provide information on businesses or organizations that can organize the marketing of products to multiple buyers from multiple producers; and the On-Farm Market Directory will list farms with on-premise sales.

The directories will be available in early 2015 and give consumers and businesses current information about specific local food sources. Producers can register for the directories online.

California leads the nation in the number of farmers markets, followed by New York, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia and Missouri.

Elaine Lidholm, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said Virginia has seen a dramatic increase of farmers markets since 2006.

“There has just been an explosion of interest in local products with the local foods movement,” Lidholm said. “Virginia went from 80 to 240 farmers markets in eight years.”

She said peak season is from now until Labor Day, when buyers are looking for tomatoes, sweet corn and melons. Lidholm said she is seeing more year-round markets opening to meet the demand for local products.

Gabby Pleitez has helped her family sell produce at farmers markets since she was a toddler. In a conversation on Friday at the USDA farmers market on the National Mall in Washington, the 15-year-old said demand has been picking up year by year and she now handles about 50 customers a day.

On market days she will wake up at 3 a.m. to prepare produce and that her customers often comment that their food is “so fresh.”

 “After raising and selling our farmers market tomatoes, I just can't eat them from the grocery store anymore,” she said.

Pleitez said her family currently rents 50 acres of land southeast of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Through their farmers market sales they hope to one day purchase their own land and expand the family business.  



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