In one year, the number of U.S. farmers' markets increased 17%, a growth of more than 1,000 markets to 7,175, according to new numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Farmers' markets are increasingly common away from the coasts, too, according to the USDA tally, which showed the most-rapid growth in Alaska, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Indiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. In one year, each of those states added 30% to their farmers' market tallies. (The data relies on self reports from markets, so take all these numbers with a grain of salt.)
The states with the most farmers' markets are California, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Iowa, Wisconsin and North Carolina.
The release of the new tally coincides with Farmers Market Week, Aug. 7-13, 2011. Also coinciding with Farmers Market Week was a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, arguing that a portion of the federal farm subsidies that go to "industrial" agriculture fertilizer- and pesticide-intensive commodity crops like corn and soybeans should be diverted to local farms and farmers' markets.
The federal government spent $13.73 billion to support large commodity crops in 2010, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists' analysis of federal data. It spent $100 million less than 1% on support for local and regional farmers. Remember, those are all tax dollars.
The federal government could create more than 13,500 jobs by supporting the creation of more farmers markets and farm-to-school programs, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Additional priority areas for spending include creation of new meat-processing and dairy-bottling plants, and programs to make food stamps more widely accepted at farmers' markets and other places fresh local fruits and vegetables are sold.
The USDA data shows 12% of U.S. farmers markets accept food stamps, a year-over-year increase of 16%.
A University of Washington study released last week found that Americans trying to follow the USDA's new MyPlate nutrition guidelines would have to spend hundreds of dollars more each year because of the high costs of fruits and vegetables, relative to low-cost, low-nutrient high-calorie foods made from corn syrup and other ingredients based on heavily subsidized commodity crops. While nutritionist Marion Nestle criticized some aspects of the study, she and other nutritionists agreed in broad strokes with the Union of Concerned Scientists that a shift if federal subsidies, away from commodity crops and toward fresh fruits and vegetables, would do a world of good for the nation's health, and wallets.
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