It’s National Farmers Market Week

F armers markets are becoming more common not only in Iowa, but also across the nation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been taking note of this evolving phenomenon since 2000 by designating a National Farmers Market Week annually. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack proclaimed this week the appropriate time this year to celebrate and promote these popular agricultural sales venues.

“National Farmers Market Week is a great opportunity for farmers markets across the country to host special events to showcase all the tremendous services they provide,” Vilsack said in a statement issued by the USDA July 21. “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.”

According to the USDA, there are more than 8,000 farmers markets listed in the department’s National Farmers Market Directory – published online at farmersmarkets.usda.gov. That’s a more than 60 percent increase in the last five years. The USDA estimates that as recently as 2008 only about 5,000 markets qualified for this listing.

“Farmers markets are an important public face for agriculture and a critical part of our nation’s food system,” Vilsack said in a statement released in 2013. “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.”

That is even more true today.

The former Iowa governor also stressed that the USDA is working aggressively to promote local and regional marketing opportunities for producers. That’s good news for farmers everywhere. It’s also beneficial to the general public because the USDA – through the directory and other measures – is helping to inform consumers about the economic and health advantages of patronizing farmers markets.

The department’s Food and Nutrition Service has outfitted many farmers markets with the ability to accept SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That number is expected to grow each year. The USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food educational initiative also complements the department’s other efforts to improve the marketplace for producers.

The Messenger applauds the USDA for its strong, multifaceted support of farmers markets. These efforts help the agricultural economy in the Hawkeye State and elsewhere. They also contribute to a healthier population by improving consumer access to fresh produce.