Memories of summer road trips often include stops at roadside produce stands, where customers buy fresh-from-the-farm fruits and vegetables.
Today, farmers’ markets dot the landscape, and have gained popularity exponentially in recent years. Today is National Farmers’ Market Day, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of home-grown vendors has increased 9.6 percent since 2011.
The USDA published an online directory at www.farmersmarkets.usda.gov, and has identified 7,864 markets operating throughout the U.S. – an increase of 689 over last year’s figure.
In an interview with Lake County News, Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said the markets provide fresh alternatives and boost local economies.
“Farmers’ markets are a critical ingredient to our nation’s food system,” Merrigan told LCN. “These outlets provide benefits no t only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also to the communities looking for fresh, healthy foods. The directory is an online tool that helps connect farmers and consumers, communities and business around the country.”
The Tahlequah Farmers’ Market opened for its first season five years ago, and now has a roster of over 20 vendors who supply local residents with a variety of items, including fresh meats, cheeses, milk, eggs, produce, seeds, breads, soaps and more.
Former TFM President Johnnye Morton, who also owns Rocky Acres Cookie Kitchen, said TFM has done brisk business this year, despite soaring temperatures and a lingering drought.
“It’s been a super year,” said Morton. “I think it’s probably due to the nice spring. The produce has been really good. We did not have as many vendors this past weekend, but that’s to be expected in August. There will be fall crops coming in within the next few weeks, and business will pick up again. I think we’re here to stay.”
The market is held open Saturday morning from 8 to noon at Norris Park, and runs through October.
Area resident Kathy Tibbits, member of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative and the Tahlequah Food Policy Council, is a big proponent of farmers’ markets, for a variety of reasons.
“I think it is healthy to eat whatever is locally in season,” said Tibbits. “I like trying to come up with meals to match what is locally ripe.”
In addition to providing fresh produce for a healthier diet, farmers’ markets keep money at home, said Tibbits.
“Farmers’ markets circulate dollars that enrich the local community, instead of going off afar and draining out of the local economy,” she said. “And I like it when we have local food security – people who could, in a pinch, feed others and teach others how to do so.”
TFM vendor Marty Tinsley, co-owner of Canyon Ridge Farms, said her family began participating in the market three years ago, selling produce.
“The first year, we sold produce only, since we were in the process of building our Grade A goat dairy and milk processing plant,” said Tinsley. “Last year was a pretty good year for us, and we expanded to cover three farmers’ markets. This year, we are attending four markets each Saturday, and an additional market on the first Saturday of each month.”
Canyon Ridge now services customers at farmers’ markets in Tahlequah, Broken Arrow, Tulsa’s Cherry Street, and Bentonville and Fort Smith, Ark.
Tinsley said the most rewarding part of being a member of the farmers’ market is the people.
“Each week, we continue to have people come out who either have not tried goat cheese at all, or have not tried ours,” said Tinsley. “It is good to be able to market your product, but the most rewarding part of the farmers’ markets is meeting and getting to know the people who come out to support their local farmers and hearing their true appreciation for what each of us does on a daily and weekly basis.”
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