Who would not prefer to bite into a strawberry right off the vine instead of a frozen one, or take in the scent of a real flower rather than artificial fragrance? That same authentic experience occurs when we shop at farmers markets. There is something about the fresh air and connection to those who grow our food that makes us feel like a part of it all. Of course there are more tangible benefits too. Estimates hold that farmers markets put three times more of their sales back into the local economy than the major chains do. Farmers markets preserve the time-honored vocation of farming. They promote healthy eating with food so delicious we don’t notice it’s good for us. Want to make new friends? Market patrons have an average of 15-20 social interactions per visit. When was the last time that happened at the grocery store?
Farmers markets are redefining community and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is making an estimated $13 million available to support them through the Farmers Market Promotion Program. The goals of this program are to increase our consumption of regionally grown agricultural products, develop new markets for farmers, and improve food safety. There are two major categories for this project:
- Capacity building—including training for local farmers, ranchers, and managers, start-up and expansion assistance for markets, roadside stands and agritourism, and outreach and recruitment to new farmers and consumers.
- Community development, training, and technical assistance—including statewide or regional training for agricultural professionals, assistance with advertising and promotion, building producer-to-consumer networks, and technical support to help producers comply with industry standards.
Here are some projects from past recipients:
- A “Farm to Table” ad campaign encouraged Enterprise Alabama to buy local.
- The Calypso Farm and Ecology Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, established a new veggie truck to increase fresh food access.
- California State University, Fresno, created a model other San Joaquin Valley communities can use to replenish food deserts.
- Outreach and orientation let new customers in San Francisco know their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are good at the Heart of the City Farmers Market.
- Modesto junior high students are getting their start with a junior chefs program.
- Springfield, Illinois, went online to connect producers and consumers.
- Music, cultural celebrations, and entertainment are bringing attention to the produce scene in American Canyon, California.
If you would like to apply for the Farmers Market Promotion Program, the deadline is May 12, 2016. Priority will be given to projects that benefit Promise Zones and communities located in areas of concentrated poverty with limited access to supermarkets.
Update: The 2017 deadline for the Farmers Market Promotion Program is March 27.
Want to encourage future farmers, urban agriculturalists, and garden-variety gardeners? Here is a link to a few funding sources for school gardens. Just click on the carrots to access.