June 2019

They’re out there.

And they can be yours — the freshest seasonal fruits and vegetables; local meats, eggs and honey; plus prepared foods, nursery plants, wool and skin care products.

All for a visit to a farmers’ market near you.

The number of local farmers’ markets in Virginia has grown tremendously in recent years. The state is now home to about 250 markets, a significant increase from just 88 in 2005.

“We do see changes from year to year with markets, both new ones coming on and old ones going out of business,” says Elaine Lidholm, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). “Generally, however, we see overall growth and not loss.”

VDACS operates the Virginia Grown and Virginia’s Finest marketing programs.

Farmers’ markets “provide farmers an opportunity to sell their produce for a better price than what they might receive from a wholesale buyer,” says Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Generally, produce at the markets was picked the day before, or that morning, and customers are willing to pay more for guaranteed freshness.”

While many farmers’ markets open each spring and have a schedule that runs until sometime in the fall, an increasing number of Virginia markets operate year-round. The number of year-round markets in the state has nearly tripled since 2010.

“Virginia is blessed with a variety of growing conditions and greenhouses, which allow farmers to produce a variety of crops throughout the fall,” Banks notes. “This, in turn, allows farmers’ markets to offer a wide selection of locally produced foods through Thanksgiving, if not later.”

As the state’s largest agricultural organization, Farm Bureau works to share relevant information with farmers who sell at local and regional markets. The organization also is involved in educational and networking events for those producers. The Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability, a Farm Bureau affiliate, provides assistance with strategic planning, grant applications, feasibility studies and business plan development for rural agricultural enterprises. VA FAIRS also markets a software product for operating online farmers’ markets and food hubs.