WASHINGTON, Aug. 6, 2015 – USDA is celebrating its 16th annual National Farmers Market Week, which started Aug. 2 and runs through Aug. 8, with Saturday and Sunday— the most popular days for markets—just around the corner.

“People are changing how they think about farmers markets as they become community gathering points, and we have seen a 64 percent increase in customer traffic in markets open for at least two years,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a press release.

There are over 8,400 farmers markets operating in the U.S. today, an increase of 2.5 percent from last year, according to USDA.

Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Anne Alonzo, who launched the annual observance of National Farmers Market Week at the Santa Fe Farmers Market with Vilsack last Saturday, said “farmers markets are at the heart of many towns and cities, bringing together rural and urban communities, providing Americans with fresh, healthy food, and creating jobs and opportunities for local farmers and ranchers.”

According to USDA, the Santa Fe Market operates three days a week and draws as many as 5,000 visitors a day during the summer. And like more than 6,400 farmers markets countrywide, Santa Fe’s market accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits as payment.

In 2014, AMS awarded $26.6 million in competitive grants though the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, including more than $500,000 in grants awarded in New Mexico, said USDA. AMS also manages the National Farmers Market Directory, one of four USDA Local Food Directories that supplies customers with the locations, hours and other information about farmers markets, community supported agriculture enterprises, food hubs, and on-farm markets.

AMS recently released results of its survey of 1,400 farmers market managers listed in the market directory. The survey found that consumer demand for markets is consistently strong, with 64 percent of managers reporting increased consumer traffic in markets open for at least two years and 85 percent of managers saying they wanted to add vendors.

Other survey findings included:

-       -- 81 percent of farmers markets feature healthier eating programs, like healthy-themed cooking demos

-       -- 66 percent had at least one USDA-certified organic vendor

-       -- 75 percent rely on volunteers and 46 percent choose volunteers as managers

-       -- About 21 percent helped incubate new agribusinesses by sharing facilities and retail space and/or providing technical assistance

-       -- Nearly a quarter were used as a delivery point for community supported agriculture enterprises

-       -- 84 percent use web or mobile based technologies to communicate with customers and vendors

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