USDA picks Santa Fe to kick off National Farmers Market Week, Aug. 2-8
SANTA FE – If you need proof that farmers markets are good for the economy and community, just spend some time this week during National Farmers Market Week watching the exchanges of locally grown food, dollars, and conversation that take place at any one of New Mexico’s 75 farmers markets.
USDA officials were in Santa Fe on Saturday, Aug. 1, to kick off the national event.
“[The Santa Fe Farmers Market has] gone from a small, informal group of farmers organizing in the 1960s to the largest farmers market in the state with [more than 100] active vendors,” said Anne Alonzo, the administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). She pointed to the fact that the Santa Fe market is often ranked as one of the top 10 farmers markets in the country.
Alonzo and New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte talked about the growth in the number and economic impact of farmers markets in New Mexico and across the country. According to the New Mexico Farmers Marketing Association, the combined sales at all of New Mexico’s 75 farmers markets amounts to close to $9 million a year.
Farmers markets have also seen an increase in the diversity of their customers. One reason: increased support for nutrition-benefits programs such as Double Up Food Bucks. That program – awarded $100 thousand in federal funds and $400 thousand in state funds this year – allows recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to double their purchasing power of fresh, local fruits and vegetables (as well as eggs, meats, cheeses, and bread) when they present their SNAP benefits card at more than 30 of the state’s 75 farmers markets.
“It’s a win for low-income families in New Mexico, for New Mexico farmers and ranchers who sell at the farmers markets, and for communities in the state that will see these dollars cycled locally,” Witte said.
Santa Fe Farmers Market Director Paolo Speirn told the crowd that small-scale agriculture – the kind often sustained by sales at farmers markets – is a way of life.
“We can’t take our farmers markets for granted,” Speirn said. “They need you to show up on market days with rain and even on market days with snow.”
NMDA has partnered with USDA on a pilot project to anonymously collect price information from farmers markets across the state so that a database can be created. That database will help vendors know how to price their items, and customers know what items they can expect at the farmers market and what they should expect to pay for them. NMDA is recruiting volunteers to help gather such price information.
Alonzo said that USDA is currently surveying farmers market managers across the country to identify any trends that may be quietly underway. Last year’s survey – the results of which are being released this month – show that farmers markets continue to grow and serve as popular community gathering places.