Farmers' Market Frenzy: Why Shopping Local Is More Important Now Than Ever
Updated: May 25, 2021
The Covid-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Farmers
It's no secret that the COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted a multitude of global industries. More than ever, people everywhere are urging the importance of supporting local businesses and spending our money on goods produced and sold in our own backyards. Unfortunately, the public's messages tend to exclude farmers. Even prior to the pandemic, farmers have been struggling due to poor harvests and global commodity production outpacing demand and causing production prices to skyrocket and increasing financial distress among farming families and communities.
When most of us think of farming, we typically think of people out in the fields tending to produce and livestock; however, there is so much more to it than that. Many farmers sell their crops to large companies and distributers, but due to decreased travel and spending, farmers are finding themselves in more trouble as the demand for biofuels and food distribution to big food processors, restaurants, and hotels decline. Data shows that although grocery store retail sales increased drastically throughout the pandemic, sales at food service establishments during March and April of 2020 were $47.5 billion lower during the same period in 2019. This decrease in demand has forced farmers to euthanize livestock and dispose of excess milk and other perishable goods that could not be distributed.
These events have caused farmers to receive lesser payments for their goods because of the shifting supply-chain as well. The USDA forecasted that in 2020, from September 2 onward, producers would receive $31 billion less in cash receipts compared to pre-COVID income forecasts. Not to mention, the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri predicts that farm income will decrease by $21.9 billion in 2021 even after the economic relief bills passed by the U.S government. Although the U.S government has been able to provide supplemental aid to farmers through the CFAP 1 an CARES Act, we cannot neglect our farmers at the local level. Shopping at local Farmers' Markets this summer is just one way we can support our local farmers and communities.
Farmer' Markets Stimulate Our Economy
A conversation at the forefront for many Americans is that of economic growth and job creation. Something that President Biden continues to work towards is strengthening America's infrastructures, which includes American farms. Farming not only brings in a lot of revenue for the U.S, but it also has potential to create more jobs for Americans, especially on a local level. Previous research indicated that for every $1 million in revenue, direct-market farms create approximately 32 local jobs. When compared to larger wholesale farms, about 10.5 jobs were created for every $1 million dollars in revenue. This research is proof that investing in our local economy benefits both consumers and businesses.
More and more people are beginning to recognize the many benefits of spending our food dollars locally as well. Data from the USDA shows that local food sales from farmers markets, food hubs, CSAs, farm stands and farm to schools programs have grown from from about $5 billion in 2008 to $11.7 billion in 2014. A 2010 study by USDA’s Economic Research Service compared producers selling salad mix, blueberries, milk, beef, and apples locally with producers of the same products selling to mainstream supply, and in all cases, the majority of the wages and proprietor income remained in the local economy when goods were sold in local markets. This translates to positive outcomes for farmers and greater longevity.
Environmental Benefits of Farmers' Markets
One of the biggest ways Farmers' Markets promote sustainability is because of the decreased need for packaging, storing, and shipping goods. Most of the time, farmers who sell their goods at Farmers' Markets own farms less than 200 miles from the market itself. This makes the carbon footprint much less for local market farmers than commercial farmers who sell to larger distributors all across the country because of the decreased need for resources to package and transport goods. On average, regionally sourced produce travels 27 times less the distance than traditionally sourced products.
Another positive environmental impact of Farmers' Markets is that most farmers who sell their produce locally utilize organic farming practices. A 2015 a survey of farmers who sold goods at Farmers’ Markets found that three out of four farmers reported using practices consistent with organic standards.
Farmers’ Markets Promote Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Access
We cannot ignore the nutritional benefits of shopping locally at Farmers' Markets. For starters, the produce sold is in-season and indigenous to the area, making the produce sold to consumers more fresh than the produce sold at grocery stores. Another great nutritional benefit of Farmers' Market produce is the diversity of what you can find there. A survey of local markets found that 69% sell vegetables, 53% livestock, poultry or eggs, 47% fruits and tree nuts, and 31% value-added products. Farmers' Markets sell a variety of nutrient-dense options that make for a well-rounded shopping trip filling your fridge of locally sourced goods.
Arguably one of the most important aspects of Farmers' Markets is that they increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables. According to the US Census of Agriculture, 144,530 farms sold $1.3 billion in fresh products directly to consumers in 2012. As of 2017 7,377 farmers and Farmers’ Markets across the country were authorized to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits accumulating to more than $22.4 million SNAP benefits redeemed at Farmers’ Markets that same year. SNAP is not the only government food assistance program that helps increase access to fruits and vegetables for low income families. WIC Farmers' Market Coupons and the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program connected more than 5 million WIC participants and 835,795 seniors in 2013 alone. Even if you are not eligible for government food assistance programs, the produce and goods sold at Farmers' Markets tend to be much cheaper than the prices at grocery stores. A survey reported that sixty percent of shoppers say they find better prices at Farmers’ Markets than at their traditional grocery store.
What Should You Bring to the Farmers' Market?
1. An open mind. You might be surprised what you find and may even be introduced to new goods and produce you've never seen before.
2. Bags. Some farmers will have bags for you, but most do not. Reusable bags are also a great way to decrease your person carbon footprint and help out our environment.
3. Cash. Farmers' Market vendors may accept credit cards, but just in case they do not, it's always a good idea to have some cash on hand.
How To Find Farmers' Markets Near You:
Find Out What Produce In-Season:
1. Johansson, R. America's Farmers: Resilient Throughout the COVID Pandemic. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2020/09/24/americas-farmers-resilient-throughout-covid-pandemic. October 2020.
2. Alonzo, A.L. Farmers Markets as Community Centerpieces. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/08/05/farmers-markets-community-centerpieces#:~:text=Farmers%20markets%20have%20become%20a,%2C%20food%20systems%2C%20and%20communities.&text=This%20leads%20to%20economic%20development,demand%20for%20locally%20produced%20food. February 2017.
3. Farmers Market Coalition. Farmers Markets: There's More to Market! https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/education/the-benefits-of-farmers-markets/. 2021.