It was a rainy morning here at the USDA headquarters in Washington DC, but that did not stop the local farm vendors from setting up shop at the weekly USDA Farmer’s Market.
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan stopped by the market this morning to purchase local fruits and vegetables for donation. Tomatoes the size of a boxer’s fist, eggplants of all purple hues, and peppers as crisp as the breeze around us found their way into bags and boxes on their way to a local kitchen for the homeless and underserved.
The produce from Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania represents the growing popularity of farmer’s markets around the country. The USDA’s Farmer’s Market was started in 1996 and due to the success and popularity, has continued to grow every year since. The market is located on the grounds of the USDA headquarters and is open from June 5 until October 30. The market features 14 vendors and receives over 2500 visitors a day.
The market has become an integral part of USDA's commitment to develop effective direct marketing strategies for farmers. According to a study by the Agricultural Marketing Service, an agency within the USDA, the U.S. farmers market industry shows the sector continues to experience brisk growth. Between the year 2000, when AMS conducted its first comprehensive national survey of farmers markets, and the end of 2005, the number of farmers markets in the United States increased 43 percent, from 2,863 to 4,093, an average growth rate of 8.6 percent a year. Total farmers market sales nationwide now exceed $1 billion dollars annually.
After selecting several cases and bags of food, Deputy Secretary Merrigan delivered the produce to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who was delivering them fresh from the farm to the table at the DC Central Kitchen.