Every year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proclaims the first week of August as National Farmers Market Week to increase awareness of the role local farmers markets play in creating healthy communities and in building prosperity among farmers and small businesses. This year, the 22nd Annual National Farmers Market Week falls on August 1st-7th. Despite the disruptions of 2020, farmers markets have remained pillars of our communities, exhibiting resilience and adaptability. Farmers markets have facilitated community connection and growth in demand for local food in a year of significant challenges, and they need your support to sustain that growth in 2021. The value that farmers markets provide to our communities emphasizes the need for investments in local food systems to continue serving communities and the small businesses who are the backbone of America’s economy.
We started the Empire Market in 2018, to increase access to fresh, locally grown food for our citizens and to provide another venue for small growers, bakers, and other makers to sell at. Along the way, we’ve learned a few things.
- a) Farmers markets are essential — our vendors, staff, and volunteers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to continue serving people and the community safely.
- b) Farmers markets are resilient because they depend on a short supply chain from farm to your family’s table. Food systems built around farmers markets are nimble and can respond successfully to disruptions, like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are some examples of how the Empire Market does this:
The Empire Market has been providing SNAP/EBT card processing since shortly after we opened, and in 2020, this resulted in thousands of dollars spent on healthy food grown by our neighbors. This reflects what is happening across the country. According to the USDA’s 2019 data, there has been a 30% increase since 2013 in SNAP spending at farmers markets, resulting in $22,886,272 spent in 2019. In 2020 alone, farmers markets nationwide saw an increase in SNAP sales by $10 million. With the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, our food assistance efforts are even more important than ever.
Farmers markets support small and diversified farms and circulate money back into our local economy. Each year, tens of thousands of farmers sell directly to consumers at farmers markets nationwide, generating $2.4 billion in revenue according to a recent estimate based on 2017 USDA Ag Census Data. The 2015 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey also noted that more than 80 percent of all direct market food sales occurred within 100 miles of the farm. At a time when many restaurant sales and other outlets for farmers are down, the income received at farmers markets is a lifeline.
The Empire Market takes public safety seriously and has implemented changes in response to COVID-19, including offering online ordering and curbside pickup, which we still have today! Our Empire Curbside program not only allowed many of our regular vendors to survive the worst of 2020, but it has also allowed us to bring on a variety of producers who lack the manpower to add another Saturday market.
Farmers markets have always been a hub for innovation based on the very nature of their operation and the people who manage them. A farmers market can transform an empty parking lot or an old warehouse into a bustling market that can feed thousands of people. When farmers have opted or been forced out of the traditional supply chain, farmers markets have served as a lifeline to their business, filling a vital role to move their goods from field to plate.
We continue to be challenged by the problems associated with highly centralized food processing facilities and their breakdowns during the pandemic, from meat packing plants to fluctuations in supply; markets like ours offer a solution. Because of their flexibility and inclusion of a wide range of vendors, farms, and businesses, they are able to respond quickly to community needs with innovative ideas on a daily basis, helping maintain regional food security and resiliency while facilitating community interactions.
We hope you can join us on August 7, as we celebrate with Pepper Fest! Come grab a margarita, a Blackberry Jalapeno Macaron, fresh roasted peppers, some Mexican tamales, and more! Please continue to support our amazing vendors throughout the whole year (we are a year-round market!) and at the same time help create a stronger, more vibrant food system for southwest Missouri.
Ivy Hagedorn, Programming & Marketing Director