The Growth of Farmers’ Markets

According to the Farmers’ Market Coalition (FMC) farmers markets positively influence community health and wealth by:

  • Preserving America’s rural livelihoods and farmland
    • Keeping small farms in business
    • Providing local jobs
  • Stimulating local economies
    • Consumers shop in nearby local businesses ensuring their money stays in the local economy
  • Supporting healthy communities
    • Shopping at farmers’ markets is a social experience
  • Increasing access to fresh, nutritious food
    • The American Fitness Index™ 2014 by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) reports that communities are healthier that have more farmers’ markets per capita due to the increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
    • A study conducted at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina reports that youth have lower BMI’s (body mass index) the closer they are to farmers’ markets.
    • Farmers’ markets have a widening customer base with more and more markets accepting SNAP benefits and WIC vouchers

The increase in market consumers means an increase in markets and farmers who vend at them, an estimated 60,000 farmers and over 8,300 markets across the nation.

Fresh Produce Safety:

  • A Center for Disease Control (CDC) report shows that fresh produce was associated with the most foodborne illnesses in 2008, and it continues to be a dominant food commodity implicated in the most foodborne disease outbreaks in the U.S.
  • Since local food markets are increasing and smaller farms are becoming the preferable source for many consumers to procure fresh produce, this makes the control of foodborne pathogens associated with fresh produce such as human norovirus, Salmonella, Listeria, and Escherichia colieven more difficult.

Many small farms selling direct to consumers at farmers’ markets, CSA’s and farm stands are new to agricultural production and have varying field preparation, production, harvest, and post-harvest handling practices.

In addition, compliance with the Produce Safety Rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010, which goes into effect in 2016, varies:

  • Farms with annual sales less of than $25,000 are not covered by the Act.
  • Farms selling $25,000 to $250,000 (very small farms) have up to three years to comply.
  • Farms selling $250,000 to $500,000 (small farms) have up to four years to comply.

However, these small, very small, and exempt farms are still responsible for either identifying potential hazards associated with producing the food and implementing and monitoring preventive controls, or demonstrating that they will comply with state, county, or other applicable non-Federal food safety laws. Some farmers markets are starting to implement their own food safety standards for the vendors as well.

 

Farmers do want to know more about food safety, but many small farms are accustomed to complete freedom in how they grow, harvest, and sell their products.

While there are food safety recommendations available online through extension websites of state land grant universities, state governments, and non-profit organizations, what would be most useful is a single, national-based repository for information targeted at market managers and vendors by market size, market type, and location.

Currently, there is no national set of model regulations designed specifically for direct marketing venues and such a resource would greatly improve uniformity across farmers markets with respect to food safety standards. And researchers on the Farmers Market Food Safety Program observed little adherence to basic good handling practices at four farmers markets in the Houston area, including dairy products not held at appropriate temperatures, no use of gloves, and no hand washing stations available.

 

The Farmers’ Market Food Safety Program

The Farmers Market Food Safety Program, a $414,185 grant funded by the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, is a three-year effort led by Assistant Professor of Food Science at the University of Arkansas, Dr. Kristen Gibson. Co-investigators Dr. Sujata Sirsat, Research Assistant Professor, and Dr. Jack Neal, Assistant Professor at the University of Houston, as well as other research collaborators, assistants, and associates, including the web-based eXtension group Community, Local, and Regional Food Systems, National Center for Appropriate Technology, and the FMC, are combining efforts with Dr. Gibson to make this educational material available nationwide.

Based on preliminary data and surveys of market managers, consumers, and vendors, we are currently developing a market manager food safety kit called “Wholesome & Healthy at the Farmers’ Market” that includes educational materials for consumers and tools for managers to promote food safety.  The overall goal is to engage consumers in farmers’ market food safety and raise awareness of potential food safety issues. We will be beta testing this kit at farmers’ markets in Northwest Arkansas in Spring 2016.