Virtually all of Iowa’s farmers markets have folded up their tents and tables for the year, and what a year they had. Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey says farmers markets thrived in every county of the state, a trend that’s sure to continue.
“We’re one of the largest farmers market states, 237 markets across the state, that’s well above the national average,” Northey says. “When we had our last survey, we had about $38-million worth of direct sales at farmers markets and that created an impact of $71-million on the state’s economy.”
Most of the state was spared from any late spring freezes which got the growing season off to an early start. While heavy rains slowed development of crops like strawberries and sweet corn, sales picked up quickly and remained vigorous through an extended season from July into October. He says Iowans will go out of their way to buy locally-grown food and those who weren’t raised on the concept are getting very accustomed it.
Northey says, “Many of us grew up in a time that we had gardens and maybe we don’t have time to have that anymore but to be able to go and have fresh fruits and vegetables and meats from a farmers markets is a relationship back to the past.” A state ag survey last year showed farmers market sales in Iowa increased an average of 18% per year from 2004 to 2009.
“It’s something we very much enjoy, fresh fruits and vegetables,” Northey says. “You think of fresh strawberries in June and pumpkins that came from a farm a few miles away. Those are special experiences and while they may be a small part of our diet, I think they’re an increasing part.”
He also notes, vouchers for farmers markets were provided this year to 51,000 low-income seniors, women and children in Iowa through the Farmers Market Nutrition Program.