Monday, August 8, 2011

USDA Celebrates National Farmers Market Week, Updates Directory Of Locations

Still no match for Walmart: More than 1,000 new Farmers Markets launched in US since 2010, but less than 12% accept Food Stamps...
Farmers Markets are one part of the US economy that has managed to expand during these tough economic times: USDA just unveiled The 2011 National Farmers Market Directory, which shows that the number of markets in America rose from 6,132 in 2010 to 7,175 this year. During a press call with reporters to discuss the news, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said she's thrilled. The new Directory, which offers a searchable online database for shoppers, was released to coincide with USDA's August 7-13th celebration of National Farmers Market Week. (Above: Merrigan, center, at North Carolina University's student run Farmer's Market in Raleigh)

California has the most Farmers Markets in the US at 729,  with New York second (520) and Michigan third (349). USDA is "high" on Farmers Markets, Merrigan said, adding that "they're a hot ticket."

“The remarkable growth in farmers markets is an excellent indicator of the staying power of local and regional foods,” Merrigan said. “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."

The growth in number of markets might be "remarkable," but farmers markets still account for only a tiny percentage of the food that is purchased in the US--less than 1%, according to USDA. Compare that to Walmart, which has partnered with the White House as part of First Lady Obama's Let's Move! campaign.  The company has promised to open about 300 new outlets in food deserts in the US by 2015, as well as to reduce prices for the kind of produce that is sold at farmers markets. Walmart sells to 126 million customers weekly, and many of its venues already carry fresh produce and other foods. Walmart has promised to increase its local sourcing too, in an effort to reduce food prices, but its definition for "local" in some areas includes a 450-mile range of purchase.

Despite Walmart's dominance, Americans like their farmers markets, Merrigan said, and she believes this is thanks to “the yearning of Americans who are no longer connected to the farm" to have face-time with those who grow their food.

Alaska and Texas ranked at the top for most growth in farmers markets at 46 and 38 percent, respectively. Market listings and data for the Directory were submitted to USDA on a voluntary basis by market managers.

Less than 12% of Farmers Markets accept Food Stamps, but 45.7 million Americans are in the program....

Less than 12% of the markets that self-reported for the Directory indicated they accept SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamp) benefits onsite. Yet while this is a small percentage of the markets, it represents a 16% increase in the number of markets accepting benefits since 2010.

While SNAP redemption data are not available for farmers markets specifically, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service recently reported that SNAP redemptions in 2010 totaled $7.5 million at all certified farmers market and direct-to-consumer food retail establishments. Program participants made 453,711 purchases at farmers markets and direct farm marketing outlets nationwide, with an average purchase amount of $16.69, the agency added. Some farmers markets double the value of SNAP and other federal nutrition benefits by partnering with non-profits, but these programs are few and far between.  Merrigan declined to say if the USDA will make efforts to partner with more non-profits for these kinds of programs.

The potential for increased sales to SNAP beneficiaries is huge; USDA announced last week that the number of citizens receiving SNAP benefits has risen to a record high, 45.7 million people, which is one in seven or 15 percent of the population. About 20-21% of all SNAP benefits in the US are used at Walmart, according to the corporation. No, that's not a typo.  When First Lady Obama noted that Walmart's decision to partner with the White House was because it was good for business, she wasn't kidding.  Under the Let's Move Faith and Communities component of the Let's Move! campaign, volunteers are making major efforts through church and community groups to enroll those who qualify to receive SNAP benefits in the program.  Walmart will enjoy a further boost in profits when these new customers shop at its stores.

The top 10 states for number of recorded farmers markets in 2011:

California – 729 markets

New York – 520

Michigan – 349

Illinois – 305

Ohio – 278

Pennsylvania – 266

Massachusetts – 255

Iowa – 237

Wisconsin – 231

North Carolina – 217

The top 10 list for growth:

Alaska – 35 markets, up 46%

Texas – 166 markets, up 38%

Colorado – 130 markets, up 38%

New Mexico – 80 markets, up 38%

Indiana – 171markets, up 37%

Oklahoma – 61 markets, up 32 percent%

South Dakota – 29 markets, up 32%

Pennsylvania – 266 markets, up 31%

Ohio – 278 markets, up 31%

Michigan – 349 markets, up 30%

The Farmers Market Directory online has links based on location, available products, and types of payment, including participation in federal nutrition programs. Directory users can locate markets based on ZIP codes and there are links to active farmers market websites.

*Photo by USDA of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan was taken on Feb. 9, 2011.

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