Sometimes the best new ideas are old ones.
In the topsy-turvy economy that we’ve all endured for the past half-decade, there’s been one consistent growth industry that has flown under the radar for quite a while now. In this age of new-fangled gadgets that are all the rage, this business hails to a simpler time.
The business is farmers markets.
For nearly two decades, the number of these fresh produce markets has increased remarkably. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that 18 years ago — 1994 — there were 1,744 farmers markets registered with the agency across the nation.
The number of registered markets today? A whopping 7,864, which includes the downtown Albany farmers market on West Broad Avenue that’s open every Saturday 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
In fact, the number of markets today is an increase of 9.6 percent from a year ago.
“Farmers markets are a critical ingredient to our nation’s food system,” USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said Friday. “These outlets provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also to the communities looking for fresh, healthy foods.”
Indeed, it’s hard to beat the flavor and freshness of tomatoes, potatoes, beans and other crops that are grown within miles of the point of sale.
The two biggest concentrations of these markets are in California, which has 827, followed by New York’s 647. Massachusetts comes in a distant third with 313. Those were followed by Michigan (311), Wisconsin (298), Illinois (292), Ohio (264), Pennsylvania (254), Virginia and Iowa (tied with 227), and North Carolina (202). Those states comprised nearly half — 49 percent — the farmers markets listed in the USDA’s 2012 directory.
While Georgia didn’t crack the top 10, we were in the third-fastest-growing region — the Southeast (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee) — which saw a 13.1 percent increase in participation. The mid-Atlantic (15.8 percent) and Northeast (14.4 percent) had the biggest percentage increases.
By the way, finding these markets has gotten easier. The USDA has established a National Farmers Market Directory website at http://www.farmersmarkets.usda.gov. You can look for markets there based on location, available products and types of payment accepted. You can type in a ZIP code, establish how far you’re willing to drive to find a market and get a list of markets that fit your criteria.