Across the nation, farmers markets continue to be great places for communities to gather, shop for fresh, healthy food, and get to know local farmers and ranchers. Farmers markets are also important outlets for the sale of organic agricultural products.
In fact, more than 40 percent of organic operations report direct sales to consumers. As consumer demand for organic and local food increases, farmers markets offer important opportunities for organic producers to enter new markets and grow their businesses.
The National Organic Program (NOP) – part of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – plays a critical role in the continued growth of organic agriculture by ensuring the integrity of certified organic products. We do this by developing clear standards, overseeing the certification of organic operations, and ensuring compliance with the USDA organic regulations.
If a farmer or vendor at a farmers market uses the word “organic” to describe their products or practices, they must comply with the USDA organic standards and regulations. The organic label indicates that the product has been produced through approved methods that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used. Additionally, all organic producers must accommodate the health and natural behavior of their animals. The organic regulations require that livestock have year-round access to the outdoors and be raised per animal health and welfare standards.
Producers pursue organic certification for a variety of reasons, and there has been consistent growth in certified organic operations in the U.S. Last year alone, the total number of domestic certified organic operations increased by over five percent to a total of 19,474. Most farmers and businesses that grow and handle organic agricultural products must be certified. There is an exception for organic producers and handlers who sell less than $5,000 in gross revenues per year. However, even if an operation is exempt from organic certification, it still must comply with organic standards and regulations if it labels and sells products as organic.
If you or a farmer you know is interested in becoming a certified organic producer and/or selling your organic products at a local farmers market, we have some helpful resources. You can visit the NOP website to download a Farmers Market Fact Sheet, learn more about organic production requirements, and determine whether organic production is an option for you. For information about AMS services related to farmers markets, you can visit the AMS webpage dedicated to farmers markets and local food marketing, where you will find USDA’s National Local Food Directories.
Earlier this month, USDA joined producers and local stakeholders to discuss local food opportunities in the Hudson Valley’s organic market. With over 60 people in attendance, the event included a lively panel discussion and meet-and-greet with USDA and local agricultural service provides, plus an extension training session.
Whether consumers purchase organic products at a wholesaler, supermarket, or farmers market, they can be confident that the NOP is ensuring the organic integrity of the products from farm to market. We look forward to continue to serve you, the organic community, and American consumers.