This is the week we celebrate farmers’ markets in the United States. Last year, there were 7,800 farmers’ markets in the U.S., which was a 10 percent increase from the year before. So while this element of our total economy is certainly small potatoes, so to speak, it is one of the fastest-growing. At the grassroots level, this growth can have a tremendous impact on the local economy and the local community.
In Virginia, we now have more than 200 markets, at least 25 of which are in Northern Virginia. But we are still losing small farmers in this state, even with this increased demand for locally grown, locally produced food. The other worrisome statistic is that there are five times as many U.S. farmers over 65 years of age than there are under 35. We have learned over the last 30 years how our dependence on foreign oil affects our national security and economy; what happens when we depend on the rest of the world for our food? We are beginning to see the future, even as we deal with an outbreak of a rare and hard-to-trace parasite that arrived in lettuce from Mexico.
We need to support our local farmers and nourish our local food systems when and where we can. Here are a few more facts for you to digest:
- The small farmer needs to sell retail rather than wholesale to survive.
- More organic and sustainable farms are small farms of 5-100 acres. Few are large commercial farms.
- Many of our small farmers are the youngest. Farmers’ markets represent the easiest and sometimes the only point of entry into the farm economy for the new, young, small farmer.
We represent enough of the state’s population here in Northern Virginia to change the face (and age) of farming in this and neighboring states just by spending more of our food budget each week at a farmers’ market. This is your best opportunity ever to put your money where your mouth is.
And if you really want to get involved, make a pledge to spend $10 a month at your local farmers’ market.