Massachusetts is among the 12 top states with the largest number of farmers’ markets registered nationwide, says a report released on Aug. 3 by the US Department of Agriculture. The number of markets here has grown steadily from about eight in 1979 to 289 this year.
The Bay State ranks seventh, behind California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The 12 top states account for 51 percent of all farmers’ markets registered with the USDA, says the report. “It’s quite a jump from when Greg Watson started the Fields Corner Market in 1979,” says Gus Schumacher, the state’s former commissioner of agriculture. “When I was commissioner in 1985, there was only about 20 or so.”
Watson, commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, began working with community groups in 1978 to develop the state’s first urban farmers’ markets in six Boston neighborhoods.
The USDA reports there are 8,144 farmers’ markets listed in a voluntary national directory, which is a 38 percent growth in the past five years. The USDA also reports the direct sale of fresh food from farmers to individual consumers — of which farmers’ markets are a part — is among the fastest-growing segments of agriculture, and those sales have grown from $4.8 billion in 2007 to nearly $7 billion last year.
“Before farmers’ markets, people had written off Massachusetts farming,” says Watson. “We began a program to preserve prime agriculture land by placing an emphasis on helping farmers understand more direct marketing options. When we support our local farmers, we are helping our communities.”
The USDA lists these states with the most registered farmers’ markets:
1. California (759)
2. New York (637)
3. Illinois (336)
4. Michigan (331)
5. Ohio (300)
6. Pennsylvania (290)
7. Massachusetts (289)
8. Wisconsin (286)
9. Missouri (tie: 246)
9. Virginia (tie: 246)
10. Iowa (tie: 229)
10. North Carolina (tie: 229)