A growing number of farmers are selling their products directly to consumers. Expanding local markets for agricultural products connects producers with eaters and increases farmers’ incomes by eliminating the middle person.Food and dollars stay in town, transportation costs are minimized, and a connection between farmers and the community is fostered. Using farmers markets, community supported agriculture, and new state marketing and inspection programs, a new turn towards local markets has begun. As these markets expand, local food systems are being rebuilt to replace the centralized, corporate ones currently in place. Below are the rules and trends that are driving such a transition.
The number of farmers markets in the United States has more than doubled since 2000. According to the USDA, there were 6,132 active farmers markets in mid 2010, including 886 that operate in the winter.
Laws and codes pertaining to farmers’ markets generally provide regulations on locations, hours, and format. The best code (such as the one highlighted below) ensures that farmers’ markets are kept for farmers.
Community Supported Agriculture
Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a partnership between a farm and a group of local supporters. The supporters each buy a share of the farm’s output at the beginning of the season, providing funds upfront to cover the farm’s anticipated operating costs and the farmer’s salary. In return, they receive a share of the farm’s produce during the growing season. Through this system of mutual support, the farm’s subscribers share in both the risks and rewards of farming, giving farmers a measure of financial security and relieving them of the burden of marketing.
The number of CSAs in the U.S. has been growing rapidly. Local Harvest maintains a comprehensive online directory of CSAs that now includes well over 2,500 farms.
Policies to Support Local Food Systems
Below we have highlighted several policies that can support local food systems, including federal policies that provide low-income families and seniors with food aid allowances that can be redeemed at local farmers markets, state and local policies that encourage or require public schools and other public agencies to source a portion of their food locally, and state meat inspection programs that enable small-scale, local livestock production.
- National Directory of Farmers Markets – locate a farmers market
- USDA’s Resources on Farmers Markets and Local Food Marketing
- National CSA Directory – find a CSA farm & get tips on becoming a subscriber
- CSA Resources for Farmers
- National, State & Regional Resources on CSAs
- “Laws to require purchase of locally grown food and constitutional limits on state and local government: Suggestions for policymakers and advocates,” – 2010 article from the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development