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The US should invest in farmers' markets, report says

Farmers' markets provide fresh food – and generate local revenue and jobs – says the Union of Concerned Scientists.

By Graham SalingerNourishing the Planet / September 7, 2011

Apples on sale at a farmers' market stand at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City.

FRANCES M. ROBERTS/Newscom/File

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Every economist knows that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but if you buy the ingredients for your lunch – or breakfast or dinner – at a farmers market you could help provide a much needed boost to the economy.

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A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists stresses the importance of farmers' markets in generating local revenue and creating jobs, and identifies a number of steps the US government should take to encourage the growth of farmers' markets.

While the number of farmers' markets nationwide more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, from 2,863 to 6,132, the report’s author, Jeffrey O’Hara, argues that more government resources could be used to support farmers markets.

“On the whole, farmers markets have seen exceptional growth, providing local communities with fresh food direct from the farm,” Mr. O’Hara points out. “The fact that farmers are selling directly to the people who live nearby means that sales revenue stays local. That helps stabilize local economies.”

But if the federal government is going to make good on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s request to help provide entrepreneurial training and support for farmers' markets as part of efforts to get 100,000 Americans to become farmers by next year, the government is going to need to use the 2012 farm bill to prioritize funding for farmers' markets.

Last year the USDA spent nearly $14 billion in commodity, crop insurance, and supplemental disaster assistance payments to support industrial agriculture, while less than $100 million was spent on supporting local food producers.

The report outlines a number of ways that the government could stimulate the growth of farmers markets.

The report’s recommendations include government funding to 500 to 2,500 farmers' markets over a five-year period.

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