At one time producers would toss some melons into the back of their pickup truck to sell produce one load at a time at farmers' markets. To be sure, there is still some of that, but many entrepreneurs at Virginia's farmers markets have grown into larger and more sophisticated marketers today, too. A quick look at statistics for gross sales in the state's farmers' markets, topping $42.8 million in 2011, should be convincing.
That $42.8 million statistic has more than doubled the value of sales over the past five years. It demonstrates a 7.3% increase over 2010 and a 110% increase over the 2006 sales level. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services points out that the number of farmers participating in the Market System in 2011 increased by 34.8%. Produce acreage increased by nearly 20%.
There are four shipping point farmers' markets in the Farmers' Market System, operating under contract between the Commonwealth of Virginia and private sector and/or county government organizations. These are located in Hillsville, Melfa, Oak Grove and Courtland, geographically covering the state.
Some additional statistics for farmers' markets in 2011 include:
• 209 producers marketed product and/or used market services at the four markets combined, compared to 155 producers in 2010.
• Gross value of products marketed was $42.8 million, representing 2.9 million product units, compared with $39.9 million in 2010, representing 2.9 million product units.
• The markets served 7,726 acres of production in 2011, compared with 6,448 acres in 2010.
• The system served 17 brokers and 638 major retail stores and institutional buyers, compared with 36 brokers and 317 retail stores and institutional buyers in 2010. Much of the decrease in brokers can be attributed to store consolidations and closures.
VDACS Commissioner Matthew Lohr notes the Farmers' Market System is seeing a continued trend toward more diverse produce grown and marketed.