Until Aug. 10, the USDA will continue to celebrate National Farmers Market Week, an annual event that kicked off Sunday in Washington, D.C., at the Columbia Heights Farmers Market.
As part of the week's events, USDA promotes farmers markets across the country. The agency has also released new data on the number and concentration off farmers markets in the U.S., reporting that 8,144 markets are now listed in the National Farmers Market Directory. That's up from just 5,000 in 2008.
Local food and direct marketing opportunities, including farmers markets, are one of the fastest growing segments of agriculture, USDA said. According to the latest Census of Agriculture, direct sales of food products from farmers to individual consumers rose by nearly 50% between 2002 and 2007.
"Farmers markets are an important public face for agriculture and a critical part of our nation's food system," said Secretary Tom Vilsack. "They provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also help fill a growing consumer demand for fresh, healthy foods."
In addition to the increase in volume of food sold, value is up too. Worth an estimated $1 billion in 2005, local food sales grew to $4.8 billion in 2007 and nearly $7 billion last year, according to industry estimates.
For nearby businesses in major cities across the U.S., having a farmers market nearby means an average increase in sales of anywhere from $19,000 to $15 million, according to a Marketumbrella research paper published in 2012.
Farmers markets may also work to bring communities together. "Farmers markets around the country continue to be popular social events for families and communities," said Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Anne Alonzo. She noted that market offerings have become more diverse, bringing more small farms and businesses in as exhibitors.
Among the areas that boast the most farmers markets, California takes the top spot with 759 markets, followed by New York with 637. The remainder of the top ten are: Illinois (336); Michigan (331); Ohio (300); Pennsylvania (290); Massachusetts (289); Wisconsin 286); Missouri & Virginia (tie) (246); Iowa & North Carolina (tie) (229).
Geographic regions like the mid-Atlantic increased to a 11.98% share of total number of farmers markets in 2013, from a 11.65% share in 2012; the Northeast increased to a 29.11% market share in 2013, from a 27.48% share in 2012; and the Southeast region increased to a 5.03% market share in 2013, from a 4.79% share in 2012.
For the remainder of the week, many markets will host fun activities, including pie contests, festivals, cooking demonstrations, events for kids, raffle drawings and giveaways.
USDA officials will be visiting markets around the country to honor growers and commemorate the week.