Final Project – Zhiyan Zhong

In the old days, people went to farmers markets out of necessity. Farmers markets offered a variety of fresh food at a lower price, while grocery stores were usually small and poorly stocked by comparison. With the development of big box retailers and the growth of online grocery shopping in recent years, many people tend to think that farmers markets are losing their customers. However, according to the latest data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), farmers markets have been on the rise and the United States has seen new farmers markets springing up around the country over the past decade.

Currently, there are 8,674 farmers markets listed in the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory. A majority of these markets are located in California and New York. In contrast, Virginia Islands, Delaware and Alaska have the least farmers markets, with the number lower than 40 currently.

U.S. Farmers Market by State
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The current number of farmers markets in the U.S. is nearly twice the number ten years ago. Chef and author Alice Waters even predicted in an article on The Wall Street Journal that there would be “at least one farmers market in every town in the country,” but some latest numbers may be telling a different story. The growth of farmers markets has been slowing down during the past few years. After a jump of 17% in markets between 2010 and 2011, the growth rate in 2016 was only 2.3 percent from the prior year.

“That says that something that grows really rapidly can’t continue to do that forever,” said Larry Lev, a professor and extension economist at Oregon State University, in an interview with U.S. News & World Report.

Also, even though there has been a growth of farmers markets in the nation, there are not many people who actually shop at those markets. Americans spent $7 billion on locally sourced food purchases in 2011, compared to the nearly $700 billion they spent on groceries in that same year, according to the USDA’s data. A study conducted by King Retail Solutions also points out that the millennial generation is already comfortable shopping at c-stores, pharmacies, and other non-traditional venues for groceries. Whether or not farmers markets will still be able to attract customers in the future would be a question.

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In New York State, the number of farmers markets in the past decade has also grown at a rapid rate, according to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. According to the U.S. News & World Report, the rapid growth in farmers markets in recent years has been a result of several factors — the local food movement, the desire to support local businesses and farmers, and community-building all have contributed. As the map above indicates, most farmers markets in the state are located in the larger city areas, such as New York City and Albany.

Farmers markets provide a variety of benefits to local communities. One is that they are also easy to find. As a result of their flexible locations, some community farmers markets provide fresh, healthy foods when other sources aren’t as easily accessed. Besides this, farmers markets serve not only as a way for people to purchase locally grown products but also as an opportunity for them to get involved in the community. Purchasing local food has become a social experience that offers a sense of place and a sense of belonging within the community.

Nevertheless, with summer harvests reaching their peak, it’s a great time to visit farmers markets. To find a market near you, the map above and the following table could be helpful.