Volunteers help spur growth at farmers’ marketsPublished 11:24am Thursday, August 16, 2012
United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack proclaimed Aug. 5-11, 2012, as National Farmers Market Week. Since 2000, the number of farmers markets has grown more than 170 percent, from 2,863 markets in 2000 to more than 7,800 in 2012. Behind this growth is the support of dedicated volunteers who sustain and support their local markets. The richly celebrated benefits of farmers markets — local economic development, direct interaction with farmers, fresh food, and decreased fuel consumption, just to name a few — would not be a reality without a support of thousands of volunteers. Behind the nation’s burgeoning market growth, volunteers and unique partnerships are breathing life into farmers markets and helping them serve as hubs for civic activity.
The power of farmers markets to strengthen social fabric is attracting national attention, too. A recent PolicyLink report states that “… direct interaction between growers and customers facilitates the formation of personal relationships in a way that is not possible at third-party stores.” Studies also show that farmers market visitors have 10 times more conversation than those shopping at a grocery store.
A 2012 article from Michigan State University suggests that farmers markets anchor attendees to the community by acting as a “third space” for informal gathering and interaction. Markets cultivate new interactions between community members themselves, as well as between entrepreneurs, in an environment focused on renewal and revival.
While unemployment hovers at high levels this summer, entrepreneurship is thriving in unexpected places. With little fanfare, the nation’s several thousand farmers markets are growing jobs and strengthening local and regional economies. As demand grows for fresh local food, and shoppers seek relationships with the farms that make such food possible, farmers markets represent an important retail option that bolster local economies in communities large and small.
Research shows that farmers markets spur spending at neighboring businesses. A 2010 study of the Easton Farmers Market in Pennsylvania, for example, found that 70 percent of farmers market customers are also shopping at downtown businesses, spending up to an extra $26,000 each week. “Farmers markets are the ultimate green sector of the economy,” said Bernadine Prince, President of the Farmers Market Coalition. “They are stand-out successes in and spurring sustainable economic development. FMC encourages everyone to spend at least $10 a week at a local farmers market, and celebrate the power of farmers markets to incubate entrepreneurship and nourish both rural and urban economies.”
The Austin Area Farmers’ Market is open Thursdays, 3:30 to 6 downtown, Main Street, Mondays, 3:30 to 6 p.m. at the Oak Park Mall and Saturdays, 9:30 to 11:30 am., Oak Park Mall. We accept all major credit cards and EBT. EBT users, don’t forget the BCBS double your bucks program, for the first $5 you spend, you will receive $5 in matching bucks.
— Article information from Farmers Market Coalition