Thursday, August 11, 2016

Roots run deep at Washington farmers markets

Laura Raymond
Food Access and Regional Markets Program

Walk most any farmers market in Washington state this week (and I hope you will) and you’ll encounter a dizzying variety of products.

This week is Farmer’s Market Week by proclamation of the Governor. Now at the height of the growing season, farm tables offer up glowing peaches, nectarines, and plums, glossy eggplants and peppers, fragrant melons, heirloom tomatoes, vibrant greens, crunchy cucumbers, pastured meats and cheeses, and a constellation of fresh cut dahlias and lilies.

Washington farmers grow more than 300 fruits, vegetables and other commodities but it might be the deep-rooted carrot that best represents what’s so valuable about farmers markets.

Farmers markets aren’t just the magical places where grocery lists go to be transformed from being a chore. They transform into places for new recipes, fun and adventure. Farmers markets provide multiple, and deep rooted benefits to shoppers, farmers and communities.

Farmers markets are places of direct and joyful commerce where you get to talk directly to the farmer who grew your food. They are incubators for fledgling enterprises that often grow into generational businesses. Last year, sales at farmers market members of the Washington State Farmers Market Association topped $44 million dollars. That’s “no small potatoes” in terms of local economies. The dollars shoppers spend at farmers markets go directly to the producers, keeping farming viable and keeping farmers on the land and caring for the agricultural landscapes we all can enjoy.

Neighborhood businesses

Farmers markets add sparkle and energy to neighborhoods. Commerce spills over the edges of the markets and supports many neighborhood businesses. As places where people come together from many walks of life, markets also cultivate community. With music, community information, chef demonstrations, kids’ activities, and time to talk while you shop, farmers market days can become not-to-be missed social events.

If you’ve had the opportunity to chomp down on a fresh-picked, sweet and crunchy carrot, you know the availability of delicious, fresh produce at farmers markets makes it easier to eat healthfully. Most farmers markets in Washington accept WIC and SNAP benefits markets, making healthy produce more accessible for all.

That’s why when a group of creative farmers market supporters came together to choose an image that captures what farmers markets mean to farmers, communities, shoppers, and our state, they chose the deep and intertwined roots of a row of carrots. A series of graphics, including "These Roots Run Deep," have been produced in English and Spanish through a WSDA Specialty Crop Grant Program Project awarded to the WSU Small Farms Program. One goal is to promote buying specialty crops (mainly fruits and vegetables) directly from growers at farmers markets.

Farmers Market Week Aug. 7-13

Farmers Market Week runs Aug. 7-13 and many markets are adding special activities to celebrate. Find a market near you at the Washington State Farmers Market Association website.