Category Archives: farmers markets

Congratulations Champaign County Farmers Market, Winner: Small Category

This is one in a series of posts highlighting the four winners of our summer long America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest.

Farmers often have a personal connection with their local public markets. Whether it’s the interaction with neighbors-turned-customers, or the added boost in revenue, regional markets offer a unique place for food producers to sell their goods. For market president Lonny LeFever, the Champaign County Farmers Market in Urbana, Ohio, is more than just a welcome location to sell his produce. It’s a reminder of what’s really important in life.

The market is nestled in the historic section of Urbana. Held every Saturday from May to October, the Champaign County Farmers Market is a vendor-operated market in the truest sense. Every board of director member must be an active vendor, and the five-year plan calls for adding a second day to the market’s schedule, eventually using a permanent structure to hold a market five days a week.

But for now, customers have a wide assortment of produce and hand-crafted goods to purchase. The first market was held in 1998 and was relatively unorganized, with most vendors selling corn and tomatoes. “I didn’t plan on becoming president,” LeFever recalls, ”but my mind was made up that we needed a good farmers market since we lived in an agricultural community.”

In 2008, the board of directors for the market decided to create a five-year plan. They started a “buy local, eat local” branding campaign, and managed to attract and retain about 28 vendors. LeFever says vendors take pride in their products, and the community and local government shows a great deal of support to their local market.

The market tries to cater to the underprivileged residents in the county by accepting EBT Tokens and WIC. “We serve the whole community, not just the people that have the money to do it,” LeFever says. “We keep prices competitive to local stores.” The market also helps boost outside business. Visitors will drive into town, fill up on gas, eat downtown and purchase delicious food from the many family farmers.

“We are located in an area where some people struggle and many people are just trying to survive,” he says. “The unemployment rate is terrible. Bringing EBT and the WIC program into our market, it enabled us to grow our business, and people who were left out before can come to the market and purchase good food.”

Winning a top award in America’s Favorite Farmers Market means quite a lot to LeFever. “It made me feel good,” he says. “I worked very hard to get it to this point, but I never thought we’d get this.” Since winning, the community is alive with support for their local market.

LeFever spent much of his early life in Champaign County, so he is very familiar with the agricultural nature of the region. But at 16, when he graduated from high school, he moved away from home to try to make a life for himself away from his small hometown. A diagnosis of liver cancer brought him back home years later, and he says having cancer made him realize what’s really important.

“We’re all given challenges in life,” he says. “You can either lie down and let them run over you, or you can say no, I’m not going to let that happen—I’m going to live.” Now at the age of 58, he’s been diagnosed with cancer four times, but each time he’s dug deeper to survive. Farming and the Champaign County market has certainly kept him busy, and helped him live a simpler, more focused life.
Perhaps it’s the positive and welcoming atmosphere of the market that provided some extra strength during some hard times for LeFever. People come to the market, local restaurants bring hot coffee or ice tea, and customers end up sticking around to visit with their neighbors.

Vendors at the Champaign County Farmers Market are like a community. “If you are a bit late, you’ll have a fellow vendor helping you set up,” LeFever says. “The whole goal is to provide local, quality food. We try to educate people about where their food comes from and explain why our products last longer and have better nutrition. We stay very involved with our community and always try to make sure the customer comes first.”

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Congratulations King George Farmers Market, Winner: Boutique Category

This is one in a series of posts highlighting the four winners of our summer long America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest.

King George County is the quintessential rural Virginia setting, with about 22,000 residents calling the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers home. The county prides itself on its family-oriented community feel, but without a major downtown setting, local schools often act as meeting centers. Now, thanks to the King George Farmers Market, residents have a place to gather alongside neighbors, shopping for the best local produce from the county’s many family farmers.

The market opened in May 2009 thanks to a spark from grower Elizabeth Bewick.  When it first opened, there were just three vendors. Later it grew to about a dozen producers, and during peak season, the Saturday market boasts up to 14 vendors. When establishing the market, a group of citizen-famers and food lovers decided the King George Farmers Market should only allow growers from within the county.

“When we were starting the market we looked at rules for markets in our area,” explains Market Manager DeLaura Padovan. “We had a lot of discussions on how to define local because we wanted to be a grower and producer market only. In the end, we made it only for those within the county. We decided to start small and add more if needed.”

So far, that concept works as the King George Farmers Market won in the boutique category for this year’s America’s Favorite Farmers Market. “I’m still completely overwhelmed we won this contest,” Padovan says.

Given the relatively small size of the region, the farmers market acts as a gathering center for families and friends. The county boasts tremendous community participation, from the various activities at the King George High School to the local YMCA. The market joined events like a monthly family sing-along, a community appreciation day, and a colonial reenactment led by the local 4H Club, to grow community spirit. The local quilting club also shows its support through a raffle of two quilt patterns featuring different fruits and vegetables. Even students at the King George High School helped spread the word about the American’s Favorite Farmers Market contest through Facebook. It’s easy to see that the farmers market truly represents the community-centered mentality of the residents.

“By and large, most of us don’t live in a neighborhood,” Padovan says. “This gives us the common neighborhood in the county. I think people are here because they want to live in the country.”

Many in the county yearn for self sufficiency. To reach this goal, residents rely on the small network of food growers in the area. Padovan says this network is not just for food safety concerns, but also because it ends up being much more relevant for farmers and residents. “If we can take care of ourselves in this county, we are way better off,” she says.

The county-only restriction provides family farmers with the chance to sell their goods to customers looking for healthy, locally grown options. Like most of the vendors at the market, Padovan and her husband operate a farm on less than an acre. “Just about everyone is on an acre-sized backyard garden,” she explains. “For being so tiny, we have a pretty amazing variety of things we sell.”

If you spend a Saturday at the market, which runs from May through Thanksgiving weekend, you’ll find local beef, fish, chicken and duck eggs, spring plants, herbs, and plenty of vegetables. But it’s not just the food that brings people out to the market. Padovan says one of the missions of the market is to educate through various outreach programs. In addition to classes on raising Shitake mushrooms and canning tomatoes, the market hosted a food film series in the winter and had presenters speak about regional feasibility.

Looking to the future, Padovan says, “One of our missions is to grow more growers, starting with kids in the schools.” Fear of big-box retailers moving into the area makes Padovan and others associated with the farmers market even more eager to teach children about the importance of locally grown food.

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Congratulations Falls Church Farmers Market, Winner: Medium Category

This is one in a series of posts highlighting the four winners of our summer long America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest.

Last winter saw some of the most severe weather in the Washington, D.C. area. A handful of major blizzards literally brought the city and surrounding communities to a halt. Despite the impeding snow storms, the famers market in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of D.C., still drew vendors and customers. But even the popular Saturday market was not immune from the treacherous weather; for the first time in its 25-year history, the market shut down for one weekend.

The Falls Church Farmers Market has a large, faithful base of consumers, drawing about 1,000 visitors during peak season. Many have attended the market for 20 or more years, looking for the best produce, meats and goods from area vendors. It’s a place to meet up with your neighbors, chat about food and get hands-on lessons from local growers.

“I think we have a great client base that is very, very supportive of the market and love coming up to the Falls Church Market and bumping into their neighbors,” says Howard Herman, the general manager of community service for the city. “I look at the market as kind of the fabric of the city, and I think the customers also view it that way. To me, it’s a critically important aspect of the city, and something the citizens feel good about.”

In its early days, the Falls Church Farmers Market struggled with attracting both producers and customers. But it wasn’t just luck that brought prosperity to the market. Herman explains that the market was heavily advertised after its early years, a time that saw only about six producers. The market was originally seasonal, but for the past four years the market shifted to a year-long event, drawing in about 45 vendors during peak season and dropping to 30 in the winter.

Winning a top award in America’s Favorite Farmers Market was a tremendous honor, Herman says. “I love the market. It’s one of those things that is hard to articulate what it means to the city and what it means to me.”

In addition to being general manager of the market, Herman is also a vendor. He sells honey and has always had an interest in farming. He considers the market to be his baby. “I think it’s a tremendous honor,” he says about winning the award. “From my perspective, on behalf of the city, I loved getting the email and was thrilled about it.”

The market saw a shift about 10 years ago when it became more diverse. Herman says the goal of diversifying the market was to make sure vendors were not just selling peaches, apples, tomatoes and corn. Now you can find baked goods, cheese, meats like sausage, beef and poultry, and other vendors there were not originally available at the market.

“It’s a result primarily of us seeking out a more diverse product line,” Herman says. “But I also think it’s recognition that there are farmers who produce or grow things other than fruits and vegetables. There are quite a few beef, pork and lamb producers out there that we weren’t even touching at the market.

The market allows producers from within a 125 mile radius of the city of Falls Church. That means the market is filled with growers and producers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia.

“The more diverse we’ve gotten, the more popular the market has been,” Herman says. “You can do one-stop shopping here. You can get everything here—produce wise—that you can get at any super market, and the fact it’s locally grown produce is a huge plus.”

These local farmers markets help keep family-owned farms in business, Herman believes. While the locally grown food movement may have seemed like a fad 25 years ago when the market first opened, today it’s clear people yearn for food grown by people they can interact with. Farmers can sell directly to the consumer and not have to go directly through a wholesaler.

“I frequently hear from farmers that the local farmers markets have allowed them to stay in business,” Herman says. “I have one (farmer) up in Pennsylvania who says his family would probably be out of the farming industry if it weren’t for the local markets.”

For consumers, the market gives them a chance to talk directly with the farmers who produce their food. You can walk right up to a vendor and ask them about their okra or heirloom tomatoes, and see if they have any recipe ideas.

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Heard Around the Nation – Farmers Market Customers Sharing the Love!

Enjoy these great comments from farmers market supporters from across the nation! Send your market some love by leaving a comment of your own. And if you haven’t voted in the America’s Favorite Farmers Markets or told all your friends to vote, do so today because the contest ends August 31st at Midnight EST!

This market has heart. It was the result of a community planning process where a diverse group of locals voted to start a Farmers Market.  It has grown each year and had diverse local food such as seaweed, berries, fish, oysters and of course garden vegetables. The market takes place in the historic Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall camp #1 and bring out huge numbers of Native and Non Native people. This is one of the most unique and most community building markets in the country.
~ Doug, Alaska

My market is the best community market because the farmers know me and know what I like to eat.  The farmers have a personal connection to the people they are selling to and greet you by name.  The market manger is always moving around and connecting with the public and the farmers. He has great free recipes which give me a different way to use what is at the market. I love seeing friends at the market and visiting in the comfortable, welcoming market atmosphere. It also makes me feel like I am doing something good for my self, by eating right, helping local famers and see in my friends.  This is the best market ever!
~ Duon, California

Locally grown food (including organic and heirloom produce), friendly venders, and various community activities make our Farmer’s Market a fun, nutritious destination.  In an area where housing tracts and shopping centers are replacing groves of fruit and nut trees it is reassuring to know that people are still using their land to provide healthy food for our population.  A fresh ripe garden grown tomato is better than a candy bar any day!
~ Mary Jane, California

I love my farmer’s market for a few reasons. 1) The growers do an outstanding job of bringing to the table fresh slow food. 2) They have jumped through tons of red tape to include the citizens who shop with food stamps. So all of our citizens can eat healthier, and support our local growers. 3) The farmer’s market is more than just local food, it is about our neighbors relating with each other. People talk, and smile to each other. Our local farmer’s market brings our community together in a basic fundamentally human to human level.
~ Lisa, Georgia

1. Variety of vendors: organic fruits & veggies, beautiful cut flowers, cheese vendors, fish monger, poultry farmer, bakers, coffee roaster, more!  2. Meets twice a week: Friday mornings and Monday afternoons, giving more people a chance of buying local.  3. Welcoming to families: the Friday morning market often features puppet shows or other entertainment for children, encouraging families to bring their children to market where they are exposed to farmers and “real” food.  4. Samples – on occasion, the vendors provide samples of their food for tasting. I bought haloumi cheese because I was able to taste it (LOVED it).  5. FUN!!
~ Katherine, Maine

I enjoy shopping here each week over the summer. The freshly picked produce is delicious and nutritious and I am glad to be able to support local farmers. It’s a wonderful sense of community.
~ Susan, Massachusetts

Our town is small with only 2 grocery stores,, the Farmers Market allows us to have “Real” fresh vegetables with out the packaging and chemicals that we are reduced to accept from the stores. The Market organizers are there every week to talk to the customers and the vendors bring the best they have to the markets.  The prices are usually less than the stores and we can hardly wait for Saturday to come around to enjoy the best tasting fruits and veggies of the week.
~ Linda, Michigan

Amazing selection. It has such a carefully curated selection of foods. I love the care and respect for the land that the farmers that sell at this market have. It inspires me to eat locally sourced food.
~ Brian, Missouri

Supporting local farmers, as well as the small businesses and artisans that so prevail our beautiful country is vitally important. Farmer’s markets present us with the healthiest, freshest way to do this. To get a real peek at what America really is all about, all you need is to leave the concrete jungle, and make your way to your local farmer’s market.
~ Joshua, New Mexico

I love the location of the market on the water and under cover!  I love that all the food sold there is grown or prepared locally.  I love that we can come to know the farmers and where our food comes from! I love that I can get to the market in 5 minutes on my bicycle! I love that in this town, kids not only know what tomatoes and potatoes look like in their whole fresh form, but many recognize the PLANT that the tomato and potato come from as well!  (referring to Jamie Oliver’s show from W. Va. where school age kids could not identify whole fresh tomatoes or potatoes!)
~ Marilyn, New York

Because we have just started our market and we have the most friendliest and good hearted people in this little ol town. Everybody helps everyone and knows each other and has really enjoyed this farmers market that we have come to love!!! We need to win best market to get the word out and draw a bigger crowd from out of town. :)
~ Paula, South Carolina

I love that the vendors are the actual people producing the meat, vegetables, and fruit. They’re always happy to answer questions and talk about the produce. I’ve gotten a few really good recipes and ideas about preparing produce from the farmers. It’s the very next best thing to having a huge garden at home!
~ Terri, Texas

My grandfathers all were family farmers with small gardens. Some of my great grandfathers had larger farmers. Most of my family lived long lives 80’s, 90’s, 104 years old. I feel it was due to growing their own foods and fishing the local waters. We look forward to the farmers markets in the summer to buy as much local grown produce as we can. I now can alot of our food we eat in the winter, like my g-mothers before me. My g-grandmother (lived to be a 104) always told me, it comes in a box it will kill you. I respect and appreciate my local farmers. Save Our Farms!!!!
~ Charlene, Virginia

Note: We will attribute these comments to the markets that they are associated with when the America’s Favorite Farmers Markets contest comes to a close on August 31st at Midnight, EST.

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What Is a Farmers Market?

Beginning in October 2009, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) assembled a group of their board members to answer the question: What is a farmers market? The FMC Definition Task Force investigated existing markets, their self-proscribed labels and their connection to local farmers to help find an answer, releasing the result this past May. The definition that took shape through their extensive efforts states:

A farmers market operates multiple times per year and is organized for the purpose of facilitating personal connections that create mutual benefits for local farmers, shoppers and communities. To fulfill that objective farmers markets define the term local, regularly communicate that definition to the public, and implement rules/guidelines of operation that ensure that the farmers market consists principally of farms selling directly to the public products that the farms have produced.

Jeff Cole, chair of the Farmers Market Coalition Definition Task Force, answers a few questions about the project and its future implications. The owner and operator of Silvermine Farm in Sutton, Mass., Cole is also the Executive Director of the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets, a position he has held since 2000.

A Conversation with Jeff Cole

Q: How did your process of developing the definition begin and who was involved?

A: It began with our membership asking us what a farmers market might be defined as. At the same time, the FMC board came to understand that federal, state, and local authorities were struggling with defining a farmers market as well. The full board and membership were involved at the outset. After over a year of formal and informal member and board discussion in October of 2009 the board felt there had been enough research and input to assign the work to a task force for dedicated consideration.

Q: The FMC Task Force found that a core value of the farmers market system is to support farms and farmers. As a ninth generation farmer, how do you think this definition will help farmers to enter and stay in direct-marketing local food systems and, in general, support their sustainability? Or, more simply, how do you believe this definition will impact the future of farming?

A: We found that a core value inherent in farmers markets is to support local farms’ and farmers’ entrance into the local food system, as well as to contribute to their sustainability. This is because farmers markets simultaneously serve the needs of shoppers, communities, and farmers. There is no success without doing so and thus sustenance of the system itself and each of its elements- farmer, shopper, and community becomes the core value.

This definition is just the first step in putting in writing some critical societal values. I call it food with a face. It allows farmers and other individuals in our society to align their values, and to use a localized economic system for mutual benefit. In other words, successful farmers markets provide us all with opportunities to help each other thrive. Farmers, most of whom have a primary mission to grow flavorful and nutritious food, need a marketing system that allows them to sell that food in a manner that sustains the farm, the farmer, and all the benefits they provide to society. The future of farming is impacted by reinforcement of a system that serves people and takes power away from corporate giants, placing power back in shoppers’ hands- where it belongs in an economic system such as we have in the U.S.

Q: By focusing on the mission of farmers markets, FMC has established a broad definition to follow. Why was it important to leave the details for the local level?

A: Every farmers market is a unique and inseparable blend of farmer, shopper, and community. Each must be free to establish details of operation that address their unique needs. Yet there are still general principles and basic services that farmers markets must provide to be useful in facilitating mutual sustainability and in bringing control back to individuals in a community. We hope the definition meets those criteria, even if it is not perfect.

Q: An array of interests, including increased political and financial support and the lessening of consumer confusion, drove the research conducted by the Task Force. Why are these considerations particularly poignant at this time?

A: As a society, we have finally re-awoken to the fact that food production, and control of it, is critically important to our personal, social, and economic health. We now generally see the vast ill effects of our past food systems and I think at some level we understand that individual choice and control (versus corporate control) is required to create the healthful checks and balances needed in a complex and thriving society such as we enjoy.  Yet some food corporations have seen the shift in society and have decided to cloud the system by co-opting the term, which goes against a basic tenet of most farmers market systems- clarity and honesty. So at the beginning of this year, I wrote a piece called ‘What’s in a Name?’ for the market beet, FMC’s newsletter, outlining some of the challenges faced by the farmers market sector stemming from recent efforts by retailers to use the ‘farmers market’ term to their advantage.

Q: What were some of the most surprising discoveries made during the process that could impact the sustainability of local food systems? How might the process inform future investigations seeking to adequately represent farmers markets?

A: Most surprising to me was how vastly varied in operational details farmers markets are, and how passionate about their solutions (systems) individual markets are. Second most surprising was how difficult it is to be clear and yet short and simple when communicating a definition. For example, coming from a state where farmers markets are almost universally producer only, I took our phrase “farmers market consists principally of farms selling directly to the public products that the farms have produced” to mean that a farmers market may have other types of vendors in it such as bakers, cheese makers who are not farmers, or even non food producers, not that produce resellers are allowed. But our definition has sparked an interesting and appropriate debate over what that phrase means, could mean, and what values we are really trying to communicate. Hopefully, once the universal values are further established, we will find the correct and simple terms to communicate it clearly.  And maybe that means we embrace diversity among markets by beginning to define different types of farmers markets. However for me there is one clear floor to our system – no farmers, no farmers market.

Q: How might this new definition affect the relationship between market managers and the local farmers?

A: I hope it improves the understanding between farmers and managers about their shared values, and allows them both to do a better job of communicating those values to each other, as well as to their shoppers.  Participants in any farmers market share some core values, so I hope the language we have offered will engender transparency about the areas where there may not be full agreement, so that they can work together towards a shared long-term vision and market sustainability.

Q: What are the next steps with the definition? How do you think this definition can be used in shaping the future of farmers markets in America?

A: Next steps are to continue to establish mutual core values and to refine the definition accordingly. We see the definition not solely as an end unto itself, but an impetus to better understanding within our sector, as well as a pathway to mutual support with the public at large. The best outcome of this process for the future of farmers markets is continued dialogue that brings forth action that allow each farmers market to best serve the needs of its locality, which is the basic recipe for sustainability.

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Pick Up the Mantle for Farms, Farmland and Farmers Markets

When we say, “America has been losing more than an acre per minute of farmland,” what does that mean for you?

Let’s imagine that everyone in the U.S. was equally responsible for saving the land that sustains us. According to the last Census of Agriculture, there are about 922 million acres of land in farms. If we evenly divide responsibility with your fellow 308 million Americans, what is your slice to protect? Just over 3 acres of land. At the rate we have been losing farmland—your acres could have been developed in the time it took you to read this post!

You may not own a farm or be a farmer, but as an eater you depend on farm and ranch land for every meal. The good news is that there are many ways that you can make smart choices as a consumer and as an advocate to protect your “three acres” and beyond. This summer, American Farmland Trust is calling on you to help others make the connection between the fresh local food you buy at farmers markets and the local farms and farmland that supply them. “No Farms No Food®” is our mantra, which applies to the farms and ranches that sustain you wherever you live— after all, there is no local food without local farms and farmland!

Where to begin? Let’s start with the most delicious form of advocacy around—promoting the delights of your local farmers market. Yesterday, Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack released an official proclamation declaring August 1st – August 7th as “National Farmers Market Week.” Farmers markets play a vital role in keeping farmers on the land. They help keep farms viable, which is an essential way to save the land that sustains us. As we head into National Farmers Market Week, lets take advantage of the peak of the summer to support farms and farmers markets by participating in the America’s Favorite Farmers Markets contest.

Will you be our grassroots presence on-the-ground? The America’s Favorite Farmers Markets contest is a national outreach campaign, but we need your help to spread the word about farmers markets in your state. Let’s work together to make a big impact in every state by getting your fellow farmers market enthusiasts, local media, and local governments excited about promoting the farmers markets in your state. Check out the current Top 5 Favorite Farmers Markets in your state and use our tools for spreading the word!

About the Author: Gretchen Hoffman is Manager of Engagement and Communications at American Farmland Trust.  She can be reached at ghoffman@farmland.org

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