Nourished by shoppers who increasingly want food that is fresh, local and environmentally friendly, more farmers markets are sprouting up across the Bay State, roughly doubling in number in the last seven years.
Massachusetts is home to 245 farmers markets this season, up from a little more than 120 in 2004, according to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.
Agriculture officials and advocates say this offers the state’s farmers ever-expanding opportunities to sell their products, with retail sales now a significant part of many growers’ annual income.
“They’re hugely important to Massachusetts farmers,” said Brad Mitchell,
government relations director for the Mass. Farm Bureau.
The takeoff of farmers markets also may have contributed to Massachusetts’ recent reversal of its declining number of farms, advocates said. The number of Bay State farms hit a low of 5,800 in 1995, but has climbed to 7,700 today, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service.
“For a long time, we were just seeing farmers and farmland decreasing sharply,” Mitchell said.
Like here, most states that have halted declining numbers of farms have a robust system of farmers markets, said Jeff Cole, executive director of the Massachusetts Federation of Farmers Markets.
In Massachusetts, most farms are relatively small operations, with the average farm less than 70 acres, the Statistics Service said. As a result, most have to cut out the middleman and sell directly to customers, Mitchell said, making farmers markets crucial venues.
Yet the expansion of farmers markets also poses challenges for growers.