September 14, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Anne Fitzgerald, Des Moines
Farmers markets are cropping up across the nation, but
not fast enough to satisfy consumers' growing appetite
for locally produced foods, experts said Thursday in
Sales at the markets represent a tiny portion of total
food purchases in the United States. But the number
of markets continues to increase, as more farmers see
opportunities for themselves in trying to serve the
growing consumer demand for homegrown meat, eggs, fruit
The problem is that too few farmers are raising farm-fresh
"We are a long way from hitting the limit,"
said George DeVault, a farm editor at Rodale Inc. and
co-owner of a small-scale, organic farm in Emmaus, Pa.
"Demand is not the problem. Production is."
Farmers markets have long been a fixture in New England
and along the east and west coasts. In recent years,
the markets have spread to the Corn Belt and other inland
regions, said speakers at a national workshop on farmers'
Co-sponsored by Drake University's Agricultural Law
Center and the Iowa Food Policy Council, the two-day
event is being held on the Drake campus and concludes
Since the early '90s, the number of markets has more
than tripled, going from about 1,000 to more than 3,200,
said Charlie Touchette, executive director of the North
American Farmers' Direct Marketing Association based
in Southhampton, Mass.
In Iowa, the number has nearly quadrupled during the
same period. It now stands at 182 markets.
It is significant to see that kind of growth in Iowa,
a state known best for producing huge amounts of corn,
soybeans, cattle and hogs, not small-scale crops, Touchette
"That says we've arrived," he told the conference.
"Even the big-bucks markets and supermarkets want
local produce. It's not an accident that they are providing
local produce when it's available.
"Essentially, whatever's being grown is sold,"
That is the case across the nation, speakers said.
Direct marketing of farm-fresh products takes many
forms, including roadside stands, pick-your-own operations
and community supported agriculture, operations that
provide farm-fresh food weekly during the growing season
But farmers markets are the most widely known venue
for farmers to sell directly to consumers.
The markets are more than a passing fad and have become
an integral part of the U.S. food system, Touchette
and others said. The markets offer an alternative marketing
approach for farms saddled with soaring costs and tight
profit margins, they said.
DeVault and his wife, Melanie, for instance, generate
gross income of up to $15,000 per acre annually by raising
vegetables, herbs, blueberries and flowers on part of
their 20-acre farm in Pennsylvania. He estimates that
it would take about 100 acres of corn or 260 acres of
soybeans with average prices and yields to generate
that much money.
"You can do a lot on a little bit of land, and
more and more people are figuring that out," DeVault
Farmers markets also offer a way into agriculture for
beginning farmers, who often struggle to find the capital
needed to start a conventional farming operation.
Proponents of locally grown foods also claim that farmers
markets and other direct marketing approaches for farmers
increase the nation's food security by decreasing reliance
on food brought in from distant parts of the country
or from overseas.
"That pendulum has swung so far that we have to
be careful," Touchette said. "There is harm
in not having an economically diverse safety net. The
local farmer is our safety net."