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Take a Taste of National Farmers Market Week

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Washington, August 8, 2017 | comments

It’s National Farmers Market Week—the 18th consecutive year the Department of Agriculture celebrates the critical role local farmers play in the nation’s food system. And I couldn’t be more delighted to put farmers in the 7th district center stage.

Long before eating organic became trendy, Tennessee farmers were tending large gardens and small fields of specialty crops, then selling them roadside to passing drivers. I’ve stopped at many of those country stands, picking up freshly-harvested okra, watermelons, green beans, zucchini, sweet corn and blueberries. I buy fruits and vegetables at these stands because they’re ripe, well-priced, and delicious. But I also know those dollars I hand over have a huge community impact.

Growers selling locally stimulate local economies. Not only do these farmers return more than three times as much of their sales to the local economy than do chain competitors, they create 13 full-time jobs per $1 million in revenue earned. That’s an incredible impact on local farmers’ and citizens’ livelihoods—especially when 25% of the vendors draw their sole source of income from the local market.

Markets preserve farmland and rural livelihood. The local media has been full of stories about the massive growth Tennessee is experiencing—100 people/day! But did you know the U.S. loses an acre of farmland a minute to development? When you shop at a farmers market, you support the livelihoods of mostly small and mid-sized family farms and ranches. And when you support them, you slow down the loss of Tennessee farmland.

Farm stands increase access to fresh food. Surprisingly, produce prices at farmers markets are lower, on average, than grocery store prices. And people eat more fruits and vegetables when they stop at these stands instead of a grocery store. Why? Because the food is fresher—often, just-picked. Rich soil still clings to the vegetable roots and never-refrigerated berries shine. That’s incredibly appetizing.

Markets support healthy communities. If you’ve been to a farmers market lately, you may have noticed they’re becoming gathering places for the community. Not only do you get to meet the farmers who personally grow your food, you’re able to share a favorite recipe with a neighbor. I’ve bumped into so many of you, shaken your hands, answered questions, heard your concerns…and I was just popping in for a ripe tomato! These kinds of interactions make us stronger and healthier.

In Tennessee, we love our farmers as much as we love good food. Sadly, there are 3.5 times as many U.S. farmers over the age of 65 as there are under 35. We need to support new, young farmers and ranchers as they start small, test new products at these farmers markets, and grow their family businesses. We need to encourage this rare bridge between urban and rural communities.

So, make your way to the markets in your county this weekend and celebrate our farmers during their nationally-recognized week. I may just see you there.


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