Let’s talk about Farmers Markets! What are they and how do they address hunger?

11135138_lby Skye Felsing, MiCAFE

Farmers markets have been around for a long time, but recently we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of markets in Michigan. According to the Michigan Farmers Market Association, there are now over 300 markets across Michigan. There were just 90 markets in 2001. So why have they become so popular? What advantages do they give us over our traditional grocery stores? In honor of raising hunger awareness for Hunger Action Month we have highlighted some important information about farmer’s markets and how they can benefit our communities and those facing hunger.

Farmers markets are considered to be the traditional link between local producers and consumers. They have existed for hundreds of years in some form or another and have evolved into what we see today. Basically, a farmer’s market is where local farmers go to sell the food items they grow or raise. This usually includes fruits, vegetables, meats, and occasionally prepared foods and beverages. The markets are generally held in the warmer months and each have their own schedules, but some markets have winter hours as well. Farmers markets are not to be confused with public markets which are open year-round and sell varieties of non-food products.

Farmers markets have many advantages for the farmers themselves, the communities they serve and the consumers that buy from them. For farmers, selling their goods at a market can offer them increased profit over selling to wholesalers, grocery chains or food processors. Selling directly to the consumer means that the food spends less time in transport, and needs less handling, refrigeration and storage. Also, farmers can retain the full price of their goods, instead of a wholesale price for a large amount goods.

Communities also benefit from farmers markets in several ways. One of the advantages is the connection that markets offer for community members. They provide common ground for urban and rural populations, and even for close neighbors, through a mutually rewarding exchange. They also encourage attention to surrounding businesses and activities. This allows a community’s funds to stay in the community, which helps to promote overall economic stability and growth. Among the other benefits and advantages are lower costs for transportation, infrastructure and refrigeration, as well as lower pollution and less land dedicated to food storage.

Many benefits and advantages also exist for consumers. For consumers, farmers markets offer fresher, healthier, seasonal foods. They also offer a better variety of foods including organic foods, pasture-raised meats, free-range eggs and poultry, and handmade dairy products. Many of these things are not available at our larger grocery chain stores. Farmer’s markets also offer a meeting place for community members, a chance to get outdoors, and a personal way to contribute to the community.

Additionally, Farmers Markets of America found evidence that produce at farmers markets is actually less expensive than the supermarket. This is due to less production, travel and storage costs. This is highly important to those facing hunger and food assistance recipients as they try to find nutritious food options within a very limited grocery budget.

One final advantage, specifically for Michigan food assistance recipients, is a program called Double Up Food Bucks. Not only do many farmers markets accept the Bridge Card (a card that allows food assistance beneficiaries to electronically transfer their benefits to stores in order to purchase items with their benefits) as a form of payment, but many of them also allow Bridge Card holders to double their money on their fruit and vegetable purchases, up to $20, with the Double Up Food Bucks Program. Customers simply visit the Bridge Card tent or market office to redeem their tokens to use on fruit and vegetable purchases. This gives Bridge Card users a chance to stretch their food dollars and an opportunity to make healthy food choices while buying on a budget.

Disadvantages do exist for farmers markets, such as limited warm weather and limits on more exotic fruits and vegetables. However, it seems that the advantages are outweighing those issues as more and more market’s open in Michigan and more and more people choose to buy locally grown food. According to Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, 1 in 6 Americans struggle with hunger. We hope that farmers markets continue to grow and provide low-cost, healthy options for those facing hunger.

For more information about Farmers Markets in Michigan you can visit the follow sites:

If you or someone you know is having a hard time making ends meet or putting food on the table, please call MiCAFE at our toll free number, 1-877-664-2233.

Skye FelsingSkye Felsing is an intake team member who has been at Elder Law since June of 2013. Skye graduated from Michigan State University in 2011 with a degree in social studies education.

Prior to working at Elder Law of Michigan, Skye spent 5 months teaching English in Thailand. Upon her return to the United States, she worked as a substitute teacher in the Lansing area. Recently, she has joined the MiCAFE team helping people apply for food and medical assistance.

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