June 23, 2004 | By: Ellen Brightwell
LEXINGTON, Ky.

Community farmers’ markets boost local economies and supply foods vital to a healthy diet. The markets also bring farming back to people removed from this way of life. Plus, it’s fun to browse among displays and talk with producers and other consumers who may be friends and neighbors.

“Community markets are the first entry point for many farmers just starting to diversify,” said Tim Woods, Extension marketing specialist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. “The markets enable farmers to start produce enterprises and related ventures without necessarily having to make a large-scale investment. Vendors usually receive good prices, compared to other marketing options, and can directly interact with people to get feedback on their products and perhaps new items to meet consumer demand.”

Woods said more than 75 percent of the Kentucky farmers growing produce are involved in direct marketing to some extent.

“Kentucky community farmers’ markets are projected to have gross sales this year of between $5.2 and $5.4 million, a 20 percent increase over 2003,” said Matt Ernst, Extension associate with the UK New Crop Opportunities Center. “Last year, average sales were an estimated $55,000 per market.”

Woods said about 20 percent of Kentucky’s produce sales occurs at the more than 90 farmers’ markets in the commonwealth. He believes additional sales may occur elsewhere as a result of vendor-consumer contacts at these markets.

This year, more than $620,000 in federal and state funds is available to Kentucky farmers selling at markets participating in the Women, Infants and Children Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and the Senior FMNP, said Anna Lucio, marketing specialist with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Forty-five counties are issuing WIC FMNP coupons that can be used at farmer’s markets. Forty-two counties are taking part in the Senior FMNP. Program participants must meet income and other eligibility requirements.

“Farmers’ markets are offering more than fruits and vegetables,” said Janet Eaton, KDA farmers’ market specialist. “Recent legislation has enabled farmers to easily add value by processing their products at home. By meeting fairly simple requirements and registering with the Department of Family and Health Services, farmers can produce jams, jellies and baked goods in their home kitchens and sell these products at their local farmers’ markets.”

Eaton said farmers also can offer such products as salsa, pickles and relishes by meeting more requirements and being licensed. Fourteen farmers markets also are offering meats including buffalo, pork, beef and lamb. Meat sales are increasing as more small producers discover the profit potential from selling meat at the retail level.

“Community farmers’ market sales are expected to increase even more this year as farmers offer a wider variety of products and consumers demand more locally produced food,” Eaton said.

“Community farmers markets provide a source of fresh vegetables and fruits that is vital to a healthy lifestyle,” said Sandra Bastin, UK Extension food and nutrition specialist. “Eating the recommended five to nine combined servings a day is especially important because obesity among adults and children continues to increase. A variety of
fruits and vegetables provides fiber which can aid weight loss, meets nutritional needs
for vitamins and minerals, and may reduce the risk for some cancers and coronary diseases. 

Bastin recommended eating one vegetable high in vitamin A every other day. Sources can include deep yellow vegetables like carrots as well as sweet potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers, cabbage, and beets.

As the number and size of Kentucky farms continues to decline, farmers’ markets also help raise the profile of agriculture in communities less connected to the farm, according to Woods. 

“Farmers’ markets are an integral part of the growing interest in agritourism,” he said. “In addition to fresh produce and other farm products, many people are interested in the stories and experiences of agricultural production. And community farmers’ markets provide all of these attractions in one location. Visiting farmers’ markets is a pleasant way for people of all ages to spend some time. Consumers also may be introduced to new products or ways to prepare them by talking to market vendors.”

Source: Tim Woods 859-257-7270

Matt Ernst 859-257-7272 Ext. 223

Anna Lucio 502-564-0290 Ext. 262

Janet Eaton 502-564-4983 Ext. 235

Sandra Bastin 859-257-1812

Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736 Ext. 257