MISSISSIPPI STATE, Miss. — Producers, consumers and the local economy benefit where farmers' markets operate, a Mississippi State University Extension Service study reveals.
While the Mississippi Department of Agriculture currently lists only five farmers' markets for the state, the recent survey identified at least 23 additional markets. Future efforts will focus on identifying other facilities in the state.
"Participating in farmers' markets is a great opportunity for everyone," said survey author Shelaine Wise, Mississippi Extension Service enterprise and community resource development specialist. "Most producers work full time off the farm, so the farmers' markets give them another opportunity to sell their produce. Plus, consumers enjoy fresh produce while stimulating the local economy."
Though similar to grocery store produce in price, foods bought at farmers' markets have the advantage of freshness — most produce is grown within a 25-mile radius of the market. In addition, money spent at a farmers' market stays in the community, helping both producers and consumers.
"Farmers' markets help producers receive higher prices by removing the broker and selling direct to consumers," said Albert Myles, Mississippi Extension community resource development specialist.
"Besides, retail spending by consumers, farmers' markets provide freshly grown produce for local consumers and help to promote business development and expansion in the area," Myles said, noting that Mississippi farmers' markets averaged 1,055 customers in 2000, with about 95 percent living fewer than 50 miles from the facility.
As an added benefit, the atmosphere surrounding a farmers' market can improve the attractiveness of the area in which it operates. Many of these facilities have a variety of farm products, foods and crafts for sale.
"Most markets will allow processed foods like jams, jellies and salsa, prepared foods, milk and dairy products, meat and poultry products, fruits and vegetables, and crafts from vendors in the community," Myles said. "This display of goods and services shows the diverse talents of local chefs, artists and growers, further drawing visitors to the community."
To continue growth of farmers' markets in the state — up 79 percent from 1994 to 2002 — consumers must receive timely information concerning locations and operations of the local markets. A major problem in Mississippi has been a lack of advertising of the farmers' markets.
"Although we have identified 28 farmers' markets in Mississippi, the online U.S. Department of Agriculture listing shows only five for the state," Myles said, adding that future efforts by the MSU Extension Service will address this issue.
"We have to make sure consumers know what is available to them and what the advantages are to buying locally grown foods," he explained.
Brent Fountain, Mississippi Extension family nutrition program project coordinator, said while food bought at a farmers' market is not necessarily healthier for consumers, there are factors that make it a better choice.
"Fresher foods taste better, and a better taste could lead to eating more fruits and vegetables," Fountain said. "Plus, the fresher the food is, the longer it will last. This means you have a longer period of time in which to eat the food."
The survey identified farmers' markets in Alcorn, Forrest, Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Lafayette, Lauderdale, Lee, Lowndes, Marshall, Neshoba, Oktibbeha, Prentiss, Tate, Tishomingo and Union counties.
For more information on the benefits of farmers' markets, contact Myles at 662-325-3144 or a local county Extension office.
Keryn Page writes for Mississippi State University.