Farmers markets increase access to fresh food

There is nothing better than slicing up a ripe garden tomato fresh off the vine. However, some may not have the means to grow fresh vegetables in their backyards.

At the Center for Rural Affairs, we work with rural communities to build healthy, sustainable, local food systems. That includes supporting farmers markets.

Farmers markets expand access to fresh, healthy food in communities that need it most. They provide affordable, competitive prices for low-income families, and many accept food vouchers.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 5,000 farmers markets across the country accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, with the number of new locations increasing at an average 40 percent per year.

Vendors are reaping the benefits. In 2014, 362,477 SNAP households made at least one purchase at a farmers market, according to the National Farmers Market Coalition. That means more families are eating healthy and fresh local fruits and vegetables.

Farmers markets also provide beginning farmers a low-cost way to enter the marketplace and grow their businesses. Small and medium existing farms can supplement their revenue by selling at markets, supporting the sustainability of family farms.

In 2016, the USDA reported 8,675 markets in the country, up from 2,863 in 2000. Many consumers now have the opportunity to eat food grown within a few miles of their homes. And, that money stays in their small towns, helping local economies.

Find your farmers market in USDA’s national directory at www.ams.usda.gov, and join us in celebrating National Farmers Market Week, Aug. 6 to 12.