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Farmers Markets Add Benefits to Community

By Ms. Bonnie A. Coblentz

One of summertime’s treats in the South is the prevalence of farmers markets, community social events that allow shoppers to leave with a variety of fresh, local fruits, vegetables and other goods.

Farmers markets have increased in popularity in recent years, with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce indicating there are 62 farmers markets in the state. These events provide tangible benefits, including bringing communities together, offering fresh food and generating income to those who supply it.

Rachael Carter, community planning specialist in the Mississippi State University Extension Service Center for Government and Community Development, said social media has been a part of making community farmers markets vibrant.

“Farmers markets can support small businesses, agriculture, healthy food choices and lifestyles all at once,” Carter said. “They can create a sense of community and be recreational activities.”

Carter said market managers have commented that they truly need more young farmers at their local markets, and they have seen some youth be very successful with selling at farmers markets.

Although some people may still think of buying fresh tomatoes when they think of farmers markets, watermelons, peaches and berries join them as very popular items at these markets. But market managers report that customer trends lead them to incorporate music, art, chefs and special events to attract customers to markets and make them a true community event.

“Food trucks and flowers are also becoming popular,” she said.

Farmers markets are scattered throughout the state and the products they offer vary by the season.

“Coastal markets typically have more produce earlier in the year,” Carter said. “We have seen an increased interest in starting new markets in northeast Mississippi, but it is very dependent on vendors’ willingness to participate and the efforts of the market managers and their supporters on whether or not these markets will be successful.”

Eric Stafne, Extension fruit crop specialist, said crops sold at local markets are weather dependent, but 2024 has so far been a good year for small fruit crops like blueberries, blackberries and strawberries.

“Harvest of blueberries has begun in south Mississippi, and the crop looks to be very good and large,” Stafne said. “Blackberries will be harvested starting in late May.

“I have not noticed any insect or disease pressures out of the ordinary,” he said. “The spring in the South has not been overly wet so far, so fungal disease pressure hasn’t been anything unusual.”

Jeff Wilson, Extension horticulture specialist, said vegetable growers have also had a good spring.

“Crops seem to be maturing a little earlier this year,” Wilson said. “There is always disease pressure on vegetables during a wet spring, but nothing has been unusual so far this year.”

Wilson said he has noted an increase in farmers markets across the state, with markets seeming to prosper everywhere. In more urban areas, growers seem to sell more produce as there are fewer home gardens.

These markets serve both small farmers and customers in the community.

“They give small farmers an avenue to sell produce without having to truck it long distances to a wholesale buyer,” Wilson said. “It also provides the customer an opportunity to buy locally grown, fresh produce at reasonable prices, which is good for their diet and overall health.”

MSU Extension supports farmers markets in a variety of ways, such as providing research-based information and other resources.

Extension publication P3828, “Growing Your Brand: Starting a Farmers Market Business Youth Workbook,” is designed to help young people enter the farmers market business. Access the publication at http://extension.msstate.edu/publications/growing-your-brand-starting-farmers-market-business-youth-workbook.

The Mississippi Hills Farm to Fork Foodie Trail provides a curated experience of local markets and other food destinations. 

Source : msstate.edu

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