For a number of years Market to Market has identified and profiled rural ventures to add value to crops grown by farmers. Such ventures offer multiple benefits. They bring more dollars to the farm, provide employment, and keep more of a rural economy's wealth in the community.
In many cases the ventures add value to commodities through processing. In other instances the value has been enhanced by assuring end users the crops have been grown a certain way. Identify-preserved grains and oilseeds promise characteristics desirable to processors. Meats may be desirable to consumers if they are certified as hormone and antibiotic free. Organic fruits and vegetables typically merit higher prices.
Another important and readily deployable strategy to add value is identifying to consumers who the producer is. Indeed, meeting that simple demand is fueling an important trend in the American food economy.
Farmers markets have been a boon to many small farmers. Consumers appreciate the freshness and variety of food available in the markets. They also appreciate seeing the people who produce the food. For their part farmers also welcome the personal encounters, and they especially like the fact they can make 40 to 60 percent more than by selling directly to consumers rather than to wholesalers or processors. In fact many farmers at these markets don't produce enough to merit contracts with by processors and wholesalers.
For much of the last decade the popularity and number of farmers markets have grown steadily. Latest USDA figures reveal there are now 3,137 such markets operating in the U.S. That a 79 percent increase in the last 8 years. During that period the number of farmers who sell at these markets tripled to 67-thousand.
On average about three million Americans a week now buy fresh food directly from the people who grew it. Sales through farmers markets last year totaled more than a billion dollars.