Farmers markets strengthen economy and community

Carol Goland & Laura Zimmerman
August 3, 2011
This Week Clintonville

A good dinner can satisfy more than just your appetite.

Farmers markets are a critical part of creating sustainable food systems which nourish our bodies, our communities, our local economy and our environment.

On any given Saturday, if you visit the Clintonville Farmers Market in Columbus, you’ll see streams of families with wagons, baskets and reusable bags brimming with meats and cheese, local produce and fresh baked goods; farmers under shade tents, chatting with customers; bouquets of flowers in every color of the rainbow; and chef demonstrations and workshops showcasing how to enjoy and preserve the tastes of the season.

National Farmers Market Week, Aug. 7-13, gives us an opportunity to celebrate this important and rapidly growing segment of the agricultural economy in Ohio.

Since the nonprofit Clintonville Farmers Market opened in 2003, the number of producers, customers and space has quadrupled. An estimated 40,000 or more customers visit the market each year, generating close to $750,000 for the local economy. A record 67 producers are part of the market’s 2011 season, bringing fruit, vegetables, cheese, honey, grains, grass-fed, pasture-raised and free-range meat of all kinds, eggs, maple syrup, mushrooms, sprouts, artisan breads and baked goods, jams, flowers, plants and more to area residents.

According to the USDA, the Clintonville Farmers Market is just one of at least 288 farmers markets in Ohio, up from 213 just one year ago. Since 1994, the number of farmers markets in the U.S. has grown from 1,755 to 7,902 in 2010 – a 350-percent increase. Nationally, these markets generate more than $1 billion in sales.

The boom in farmers markets parallels a larger trend in consumer demand and growth in the organic foods and products. The organic industry has grown from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $29 billion in 2010. While the rest of the economy is in a slow-down, the organic industry continues to grow, supporting 14,540 organic farms and ranches in the U.S., many of which continue to expand and add employees to keep pace with growing demand.

Although Ohio has lost more than 6.9 million acres of farmland to development over the past five decades, or about 15 acres an hour for the last 50 years, Ohio’s farmers markets are helping to preserve Ohio’s farmland and rural heritage by providing low-cost entry points for small, mid-size and beginning farmers to incubate their businesses. With the help of farmers markets, more farmers are choosing to stay in agriculture, and by selling direct to consumers, these farmers keep more of their profits and are able to make a better living from farming.

At the Clintonville Farmers Market, one-quarter of the farmers are under 40 years old and approximately 90 percent of the market’s producers are start-up and small farming operations.

Farmers markets are about connection. At farmers markets, customers can meet and talk with the farmers who grow their food. Customers tell the farmers what they want, what they enjoy eating, and how they prepare food; farmers tell the customer what grows in Ohio, how it was grown and when it was harvested. The community of farmers, customers, neighboring shops and residents, cooks, and musicians join together in the timeless celebration of the harvest that comes from our surrounding land.

Farmers markets also deliver some of the freshest, most delicious ingredients available for food lovers of all stripes. Locally grown organic fruits and vegetables found at farmers markets are usually harvested within 24 hours of being purchased by the consumer. Produce from California can’t be that fresh and it doesn’t taste as good, either.

At the height of the season, now is a great time to experience one of Ohio’s farmers markets, which are helping farmers and consumers reconnect and together build a sustainable food system one meal at a time.

To find a farmers market in your area, go to the USDA  Farmers Market Directory or  Ohio Proud.

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