We just wrapped up the 15th annual National Farmers Market Week here at USDA. It has been an AMAZING week filled with celebrations at farmers markets across the country. Last Friday, at our own USDA Farmers Market, we hosted hundreds of youths to introduce them to healthy back-to-school snacks; and we even had a special guest appearance from our old friend Smokey Bear (who turned 70 years old on Saturday).
Every year, the first full week of August is our opportunity to highlight the country’s thousands of farmers markets, the farmers and ranchers who make them possible, and the communities that host them. Farmers markets and, more broadly, local and regional food systems, are one of the four key pillars that USDA is focusing on in order to encourage rural economic development and improve the quality of life for rural Americans.
The benefits of farmers markets also extend to Americans living in cities, like those who joined us at the USDA Farmers Market here on the National Mall. USDA employees, visitors to our nation’s Capital, and others in the neighborhood can visit USDA’s Farmers Market every Friday from June to November. The market is next to the National Mall at 12th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W. Farmers markets like ours connect and unite people living in urban and rural communities; put a face on the farmers and ranchers who produce our abundant food; and support access to fresh, healthy, affordable food for all American families.
With resources in the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA is making a historic investment to support the continued growth of farmers markets and local and regional food systems. Last week’s updated 2014 National Farmers Market Directory listed 8,268 farmers markets that voluntarily reported their locations, operating hours, and other details. The number of entries in this free, online directory has increased 76% since 2008, making it easier than ever for consumers and producers around the country to find each other.
Now, my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service, has announced the development of 3 new directories (for Community Supported Agriculture operations, on-farm markets, and food hubs). We are encouraging all food hubs, community-supported agriculture programs, and on-farm markets to list their businesses in these directories. Already, we’ve seen a great response from local food businesses that have entered their information into the directories at www.USDALocalFoodDirectories.com, and we look forward to having these additional free directories online in early 2015.
Another highlight of this week was the U.S. Postal Service’s release of 4 new limited-edition Farmers Markets Forever stamps that show a table with products found at a typical farmers market. When I reflect on that table of food and the many delicious products, I think about the table of opportunity that exists for farmers across this country. There are many tables that are waiting to be filled. Some of those tables are in homes, some are in schools, and some are in hospitals, restaurants, and the like. We can help connect these farmers to as many tables as possible so that we all may be filled with wholesome agricultural products from our nation’s farmland.
As we look back at National Farmers Market Week, remember to support your local farmers and farmers markets year-round. Our tables need them!!