And that large increase is more than small potatoes: The estimated total of ag product sales directly to consumers -- which include farmers markets, roadside stands, U-picks and online sales, in Arkansas was $6.3 million, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture.
From Bella Vista, to Texarkana, to Gosnell and Lake Village, Arkansas has nearly 100 farmers markets, according to USDA’s famers market directory.
Ron Rainey professor of economics for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, estimates that the number of farmers markets in Arkansas has doubled over the last decade, with the Fayetteville Farmers Market, River Market in Little Rock and Argenta Farmers Market in North Little Rock and Jonesboro farmers market, some of the biggest ones in Arkansas.
Why the dramatic increase in farmers markets? The answer, said Rainey said, is the tremendous demand for locally grown foods,
“Consumers are increasingly wanting to know their food and farmers and how it was produced,” he said. “They are willing to pay the premium.”
Locally grown foods create the sense of trust between the consumers and the farmers, he said. “When you go to grocery stores, you don’t meet the farmers.”
More than just food
Apart from economic, fresh produce and health reasons, farmers markets are also venues for entertainment and community engagement.
“Arkansas markets are increasingly offering electronic benefits transfer technology that can be used by recipients of USDA’s SNAP and WIC programs, and the Senior farmers market Nutrition program to provide seasonal ingredients to program participants,” said Bev Dunaway, program associate for the Southern Risk Management Education Center.
SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and WIC is Women, Infants and Children.
“Our Arkansas farmers markets are more than just a shopping trip,” she said. “They have become an integral part of our local food and social networks.”
Businesses can benefit from the increase by showing support to locally grown products. Large retailers have started to promote local brands by adding the name of the farms they came from to make connection, Rainey added.
Farmers Market Week
USDA has declared Aug. 3-9 as the 15th annual National Farmers Market Week. Arkansas is invited to take part in the celebration of farmers and communities.
“Farmers markets play a key role in developing local and regional food systems that support family farms, and help grow rural economies. They bring communities together, connecting cities with the farms that support them and provide Americans across the country with fresh, healthy food,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
He encouraged farmers markets across the country to host special events in this celebration week.
Events held around the country include Healthy Back-To-School Challenge in Washington, D.C., which teaches families how to cook simple, healthy and delicious dishes, and celebration at the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wisconsin.
To learn more about farmers markets or marketing your produce, contact your county extension office or visit the Southern Risk Management Education Center, or Arkansas MarketMaker.
The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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