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Farmers Markets Booming in U.S.

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American farmers may be struggling through one of the worst droughts in U.S. history, but the number of farmers markets just keeps on growing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will announce this week that the number of direct-sales markets has increased nearly 10 percent in the past year, led by California and New York.

"Farmers markets are a critical ingredient to our nation's food system," USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said. "These outlets provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also to the communities looking for fresh, healthy foods."

The past year continues the pattern of exponential growth for farmers markets over the past 20 years. The number of direct-sales markets registered with the USDA has grown from 1,744 in 1994 to 7,864 today.

Some farmers markets have become so popular that there are wait lists to sell at them.

The trend to eat local, fresh foods—and to cut back on processed foods--have been other factors that can be attributed to the surge in the number of farmers markets.

More and more consumers appreciate the opportunity to support small-scale American farmers in their own communities.

National Farmers Market Week

This week, in recognition of National Farmers Market Week, American Farmland Trust launched an online leader board revealing the top 20 farmers markets that are leading the America's Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest. The board tracks up-to-the-minute standings during the final month of voting, which closes at midnight on Labor Day (September 3). The leader board is available at www.votemyfarmersmarket.org.

"The continued growth in farmers markets is terrific for family farmers and everyone who enjoys buying fresh, locally-grown food," said American Farmland Trust President Jon Scholl.

The goal of American Farmland Trust's fourth annual America's Favorite Farmers Markets contest is to highlight the role that farmers markets play in keeping family farmers on the land. The summer long contest is a nationwide challenge to see which markets can rally the most votes from their customers. At the end of the contest, four winning markets--one small, one medium, one mid-size, and one large--will receive the title of America's Favorite Farmers Market for 2012. The winning markets will be featured in the media and will be honored at local celebrations organized by American Farmland Trust.

"Farmers markets connect people who enjoy fresh, seasonal produce with the farmers who grow it," Scholl continued. "America has been losing more than an acre of farm and ranch land every minute to development. Farmers markets play a critical role by helping to keep family farmers in business and keep farmland in agricultural production."

In concert with the America's Favorite Farmers Markets contest, farmers can submit an essay to win the Farmers Market Inspiration Award. The $1,000 prize will be awarded to a farmer showing the greatest dedication to his market by the Farmers Market Coalition in partnership with Growing for Market magazine and American Farmland Trust. Farmer nominations will be accepted through August 11th, 2012.

According to the contest rules, people can vote for as many participating farmers markets as they choose, but can only vote for each market once.

For more information about the America's Favorite Farmers Markets contest or to vote, visit www.votemyfarmersmarket.org. Those interested in helping to get out the vote via social media are encouraged to use the short-cuts on Facebook and Twitter.

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