Posted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Over the first week of August, local markets across the country celebrated National Farmers Market Week.
Farmers markets are an important part of America's diverse agriculture sector, providing unique benefits to communities across our nation. They give Americans a chance to learn about agriculture by meeting some of the people who grow and raise our food. They provide valuable marketing opportunities for small and beginning farmers -- many of whom scale up to larger regional markets and other institutions. And they help expand access to locally-grown foods that are in greater demand than ever before.
We have seen incredible growth in the number of farmers markets over the past few years. Today, according to USDA's National Farmers Market Directory, more than 8,100 local markets are in operation -- up from about 5,000 markets just a few years ago.
Sales of local foods have skyrocketed along with the popularity of farmers markets. In 2005, local food sales totaled about $1 billion across the nation. Last year, according to industry estimates, sales of local foods totaled nearly $7 billion.
At USDA, we believe that strengthening local and regional food systems, including farmers markets, will be a cornerstone of a revitalized rural economy.
Under the Obama Administration, USDA has helped nearly 450 farmers market and other direct-marketing projects in every state, under our Farmers Market Promotion Program. We've also supported nearly 300 projects to help farmers develop and sell new, value-added products through our Value-Added Producer Grants program.
We have helped increase the number of markets that accept EBT technology -- which allows folks to use nutrition assistance benefits to buy fresh, farmers market produce -- by nearly 100 percent in the last two years.
And to be sure American agriculture is ready to meet the growing demand for local products, we've helped thousands of small producers to get started and keep growing.
We want to continue these efforts -- and to do so, USDA continues to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. This would expand USDA support for local and regional marketing opportunities, including farmers markets, around the country.
This week we joined folks around the country in celebrating our nation's thousands of farmers markets. More Americans than ever have a thriving farmers market in their city or town -- and by providing support to grow and strengthen these markets, we can create even more opportunity for American agriculture.