Fresh & Local
The Booming Growth of Farmers’ Markets
Column #51, Published Sept 7th, 2012

There is currently a food revolution going on. Locally grown food is making permanent inroads into the food we eat, and the way we think about food.

In previous columns, I have written about all the different distribution channels for locally grown food. The appearance of wholesalers and retailers for locally grown food is an important development, but farmers’ markets are undoubtedly the distribution channel people most closely associate with locally grown food.

Farmers’ markets are important not only to consumers looking for fresh produce and farmers looking for outlets for their produce, but to local economies that benefit from the economic activity that the markets generate.

As proof that the interest in locally grown food is growing fast, the number of farmers’ markets in the U.S. is skyrocketing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture keeps a data base of the nation’s farmers’ markets. Last year in 2011, the number of famers’ markets grew by over 1,000 from 6,132 to 7,175 which is a 17% increase.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan just announced that this year, the number of markets grew another 689 to 7,864 which is a 9.6% increase. That means that over 1,700 new farmers’ markets have been organized in the last two years.

The geographic regions with the highest growth rates in the last year were all on the east coast. The mid-Atlantic region, which includes Virginia, had a 15.8% increase. The Northeast region had a 14.4% increase, and the Southeast had a 13.1% increase.

Along with the announcement Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said, “Farmers markets are a critical ingredient to our nation's food system. These outlets provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also to the communities looking for fresh, healthy foods.”

Locally grown food is no longer a fad. It is here to stay and growing fast.

I heard a rumor recently that the Town of Culpeper is thinking of building a pavilion directly across Commerce Street from the Railroad Depot. The pavilion could become the permanent home to the Culpeper Farmers’ market and bring it under a roof.

That would be a terrific idea. A pavilion would offer protection from the rain and the relentless summer sun. Standing out on the blacktop in the July heat for five hours is tough. But is this rumor about a pavilion true?

I decided to call James Clements. He and his wife Elana and son Max are regulars at the farmers’ market. He is also on the town Planning Commission. And since he also writes a column for this newspaper, I figured he would give me the inside story.

James told me that the pavilion idea has been floated and the project is in the town Capital Improvement Plan.

He said that there are nearby localities have already built multi-purpose pavilions that are being used by farmers’ markets. For example, he mentioned downtown Manassas by the Train Depot. That pavilion is used as an ice skating rink in winter, and by the farmers’ market the rest of the year.

A pavilion would also be a great place to have events like the Third Thursday concerts.

Interest in locally grown food and famers’ markets is booming nationally. The Culpeper Farmers’ Market generates a lot of foot traffic and economic activity in downtown Culpeper. A downtown pavilion that could be used by the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings makes a lot of sense.

Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at