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New Farmers Markets Provide Health, Jobs Boost

Going to a farmers market this weekend? Thanks! You're helping boost the American economy.

If you’re like a growing number of Americans, this weekend you’ll visit a farmers market to get fresh local produce, meat, cheese and other goods that nearby farms have to sell. That trend is expanding as new markets are started across the country, spreading economic benefits as well as fresh veggies.

With more public focus on healthier eating, sustainability and generally taking food more seriously, you’d expect farmers markets to sprout widely. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported that their numbers have expanded at an astonishing rate—more than 1,000 new farmers markets were recorded this year compared to last year, for a grand total of 7,175.

The biggest growth took place Alaska, Texas, and Colorado, but the states with the most farms were California, New York, and Michigan. Some 4,000 community-supported agricultural (CSA) operations now exist as well; these organizations allow people to support farms by paying for the regular delivery of fresh produce.

In 2007, direct sales of agricultural products to consumers was a $1.2 billion business, and the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that its expansion could help boost jobs around the country. In a recent report, one researcher argues that modest investments in farming infrastructure could help create tens of thousands of jobs.

Those investments could be as simple as ensuring that there is a working Electronic Benefits Transfer machine at the farmers market to allow people receiving state and federal food assistance to shop for fresh produce just like they would at the supermarket.

The UCS report contrasts the limited public support for farmers markets with the massive subsidies that go to highly profitable agribusiness, and suggests that there is more bang-for-buck, not to mention health benefits, in fostering competition and regional food infrastructure than continuing public funding to factory farms.

While political haggling over how best to support farmers markets will continue in Washington, the best way to support them is to patronize them. The USDA maintains a catalog of markets on their website that can point you to the most convenient place to buy local goods.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Natalie Maynor

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