This morning, Secretary Tom Vilsack and I kicked off the 20th season of the USDA Farmers Market. It was quite a celebration, complete with balloons, ribbon cutting and bell ringing! The market underwent a major redesign and expansion this year to make room for twice as many vendors as we’ve had in the past. Featuring everything from fresh oysters to delicious pastries to crisp lettuce, today’s market is full of delicious offerings from local farmers, ranchers and food businesses.
I am so proud that my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service, has managed this market for the past 20 years, turning it into a true gathering place for USDA and its neighbors, including Washington, D.C.-area employees, residents in Ward 2 and visitors to the National Mall. The USDA Farmers Market also provides a great business opportunity for entrepreneurs.
Many of the new vendors at our market are from Union Kitchen, a local food incubator that provides a low-cost, low-risk, full-service kitchen for local businesses to grow and establish their operations. Shoppers can use a variety of payment options, including electronic benefits such as SNAP, WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (NFMNP) coupons. The market also distributes DC Produce Plus checks.
The USDA Farmers Market is an important part of our work to support local and regional food systems across the country through grants, applied research and technical services. These efforts are coordinated through the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative. Managing the market has given us firsthand experience in how to help farmers markets, farmers and vendors as they bring healthy, locally-grown foods to communities across the country.
One set of tools that AMS offers to producers and consumers of local foods is our Local Food Directories, which make it easy to find one of the more than 8,300 farmers markets across the country. The free, online resources include the locations, operating hours and other details about farmers markets, food hubs, community-supported agriculture (CSA) operations and on-farm markets nationwide.
The USDA Farmers Market, located just off the National Mall at the Smithsonian Metro stop at Independence Avenue and 12th Street, S.W., is open every Friday (except for July 3) from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., May 1 through October 30, 2015. This year we’re especially excited to host the “USDA Farmers Market at Night” from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. every third Friday starting May 15.
Whether you work or live in the Washington, DC-metro area or plan to visit, I hope you’ll visit the USDA Farmers Market soon.