Farmers markets give consumers access to locally grown, farm-fresh produce while allowing farmers to sell their produce directly at retail rather than wholesale prices. This can be a key element in supporting our small farms. The percentage of the total money Americans spend on food that goes to the farmers who grow the food has shrunken steadily over the past fifty years. Millions of small farms have gone out of business leaving their rural communities desolate. Meanwhile, food processing and marketing conglomerates, like tobacco giant and now America's biggest food company, Phillip Morris, have expanded dramatically. Farmers markets eliminate the middlemen and give consumers a way to protect their local food producers.
People are becoming more comfortable shopping at farmers markets and the number of these markets operating in the United States has grown dramatically, increasing 63 percent in the last six years. According to the 2000 National Farmers Market Directory, there are now 2,863 farmers markets operating in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is becoming an enthusiastic supporter of farmers markets and their Marketing Service is trying to link government programs such as Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC), food stamps and school lunch programs to the growing network of local farmers markets. In 1992 they set up the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program. This a program with the intention of providing fresh, nutritious fruit and vegetables from farmers markets to low-income women and children who are considered nutritionally at risk. The program is also intended to expand the awareness and use of farmers markets by consumers. This program has been quite successful and federal funding for the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program for the year 2001 has doubled. Help make sure your friends and neighbors are aware of these opportunities.