Farms.com Home   News

Farmers Markets Play Vital Role in Boosting State’s Economy, Access to Food

By Tracy Courage

Arkansas’ farmers markets play a crucial role in supporting the agricultural economy while improving access to fresh produce in rural communities.

Earlier this month, Gov. Sarah Sanders signed a proclamation recognizing June 9-15 as Arkansas Farmers Market Week, highlighting the benefits the state’s 111 farmers markets provide to Arkansas’ agricultural producers, consumers and communities. Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward read the proclamation during a June 6 ceremony at Dunbar Community Garden in Little Rock.

The Cooperative Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, works year-round with many growers, producers and farmers market operators to support their success.

“Farmers markets play an important role in our communities, boosting local economies, providing a local source of high-quality food products, and providing a place for people to come together,” said John Anderson, senior associate vice president for agriculture-extension and director of the Cooperative Extension Service. “The Division of Agriculture is proud to provide our support to the state’s farmers markets. Our research-based tools and information – from cutting-edge production practices for farmers to safe handling best practices and food preparation tips for consumers – help ensure that everyone gets the most out of their farmers market experience.”  

For Arkansans living in communities that lack a nearby grocery store, farmers markets can mean the difference between having fresh produce or not.

“Farmers markets are a huge asset to communities,” said Leigh Ann Bullington, extension family and consumer sciences educator. “Many Arkansans live in rural communities where they either don’t have access to produce, or they can’t afford it. Many farmers markets accept EBT cards so people can use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP — benefits to buy food and participate in the Double Up Food Bucks, which gives them twice the amount of produce.”

Economic Boost

Farmer direct-to-consumer sales are used by more than 1,400 Arkansas farmers and are valued at more than $8.5 million, Ward said.

Ron Rainey, economics professor for the Division of Agriculture, provides guidance on establishing and managing markets and helps individual vendors find marketing strategies to promote their products.

“While the growth in the number of markets has slowed a little since pandemic highs, interest in the fresh flavor profiles delivered by the array of farm products continues to grow," he said.

Rainey oversees Market Maker, a free online resource where farmers can promote their operations and consumers can find markets near them. Consumers can also find farmers markets through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Arkansas Grown program at arkansasgrown.org/.

Extension’s Local Regional & Safe Foods Team also works year-round to support market managers and vendors.

“Our Local Foods team offers support to those interested in learning more about how they can participate in farmers markets around the state,” said Rip Weaver, a food systems and food safety program technician with the team. “In years past, we have created fact sheets on farmers market guidelines during the COVID pandemic; provided technical assistance to growers and market managers on the Arkansas Food Freedom Act and selling safely at markets; and visited with vendors at markets to keep a pulse on their needs, challenges, and successes.”

The team provides:

  • Produce safety training and technical assistance on best practices for growing, harvesting, handling and holding of fresh produce
  • Technical assistance on Cottage Food Law and farmers market guidelines passed by the Arkansas Department of Health
  • Webinars on produce safety for school, community and backyard gardens and food processing for farmers and food businesses

Extension resources related to farmers markets

Market Maker – This free online resource lets farmers register to promote their operations and products. The searchable database allows consumers to locate markets and farm businesses in their areas. https://uaex.uada.edu/market-maker

National Ag Law Center — Find legal resources to understand the liability and regulatory issues of local food marketing. https://nationalaglawcenter.org

Produce Safety Workshops – Find produce safety information and training at https://uaex.uada.edu/producesafety

Source : uada.edu

Trending Video

Market to Market

Video: Market to Market

Another week of deadly weather across the country.