Editor's Note: This is part of a summer-long series on Vermont farmers markets around our region.
A new report released by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont reveals that Vermont's farmers' markets continue to thrive, providing substantial support to the state's vibrant agricultural economy.
There are currently more than 80 farmers' markets in Vermont, 30 of which accept EBT (food assistance benefits) and debit cards. This report was released during the 10th annual National Farmers' Market Week last week.
NOFA-Vt. will be celebrating National Farmers' Market Week with a film contest and the second annual Pizza to the People tour, bringing wood-fired pizza to farmers' markets across the state. These events are part of a larger national celebration, a context in which Vermont's farmers' markets shine.
"Vermont has been a leader when it comes to connecting farmers and consumers," says Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Roger Allbee. "Vermont has more farmers' markets per capita than any other state and we are always looking for ways to support farmers' markets, CSAs, farm stands and other initiatives that link farmers and consumers. I call this a renaissance of the past - people want to know where their food comes from, how it is grown and who grows it. National Farmer's Market Week is a wonderful way to acknowledge the important work our farmers do and most importantly the food they provide for us."
The NOFA-VT report, which compiled data from voluntary surveys completed by farmers' market managers, highlights the considerable economic contributions that markets provide to Vermont.
"Gross sales receipts totaled nearly $7 million for 2009," said Jean Hamilton, Direct Marketing Coordinator for NOFA-Vt. "Most of the markets reported that over half of their sales came from agricultural products, which we found traveled an average of only 20 miles from the point of production - the farm - to the point of sale - the market."
All but seven of the markets collecting gross sales data reported significant increases in processed food sales, indicating a growing market for locally processed foods as well. "All of these factors suggest that farmers' markets are an excellent way to support Vermont's economy by buying local food," Hamilton said.
The report also calls attention to the challenges that farmers' markets face as they grow.
Many emphasized the lack of adequate infrastructure, such as parking and overall market space, along with difficulties creating marketing campaigns to attract the attention of additional local consumers. The full report can be found at www.nofavt.org.