Shining a light on Washington farmers markets
The number of farmers markets in the state have more than doubled in the last decade, from nearly 80 to more than 160, according to a recent report by Washington State University. The report is based on a 2010 study that examined economic and community impacts of farmers markets in Washington, which could help shape strategies and policies to sustain them.
1. A majority of markets are concentrated in the population centers of the Puget Sound region, with more than one-fourth in King County alone.
2. In 2010, 169 farmers markets were identified in the state, in 32 of the state’s 39 counties.
3. Farmers markets in the study reported a collective total of $30 million in annual sales. (The actual total is likely higher given that one-third of markets in the study did not provide sales data.) The ten largest markets accounted for more than half of all sales.
4. The smallest market in the study had annual sales of $1,000; the biggest, $5,000,000.
5. At least one third of the markets now take credit and debit cards, as do many individual market vendors.
6. Market managers want local food. A sizeable majority prefer that products come from nearby counties, cities and towns, or a specific region. Thirteen percent prioritized farmer vendors who sold certified organic products.
7. Top motivations for starting markets: supporting farmers and improving access to farm-fresh produce.
8. Nine out of ten markets supply federal nutrition assistance programs and four out of five make produce donations to local food banks, pantries and other emergency food providers.
9. Two ways market managers said that farmers markets help the environment: reducing transportation distances for people and food, and encouraging environmentally sound farming practices.
10. Of the approximately 6,300 vendor booths at farmers markets in the state, most are filled by farmers (2,699) followed by artisan/crafters (2,003).
11. Four out of five farmers markets in the study have immigrant or minority farmer vendors, largely Latino and Hmong farmers.
12. Revenues for market operations range from $1,000 to $100,000. Vendor fees are the most common source of revenue; staffing and marketing are the largest expenses.
13. The average market season is 21 weeks long. Relatively few markets operate year-round, though the number of winter markets is growing.
14. Most markets in the study (61 percent) were started between 2001 and 2009.
15. Pike Place Market, started in 1907, is the oldest farmers market in the state.
Colleen Donovan, coauthor of the study, said farmers markets play important roles in building a sense of community and in launching farm businesses.
“Farmers markets are critical to small farm and food business development,” she said. “They offer a venue for getting immediate customer feedback on products, developing their product lines, improving quality, honing product presentation and marketing strategies, as well as building relationships with customers.”
Donovan also said the study brings to light the strong sense of mission that motivates market managers to take on the often underfunded work of supporting small farmers and increasing access to healthy foods for low-income shoppers.
Market managers approached WSU because they needed scientifically sound data to help them sustain farmers markets. Marcy Ostrom, director of the WSU Small Farms Program, wanted to evaluate how well farmers markets support farmers.
“We wanted to know what the role of these markets is in the long-term viability of small and medium-sized farms, especially in light of claims we hear that they are a great way to support farms, that they are greener, and that they allow farmers to capture a better retail dollar,” Ostrom said.
Karen Kinney, executive director of the Washington State Farmers Market Association (WSFMA), said the study is important for city officials wanting to understand how farmers markets impact local economies and improve access to healthy foods.
WSU will continue to assess farmers market trends through a long-term collaboration with the WSFMA. “We are really lucky to have that,” Kinney said, “so that we can stay current and assess change over time.”
In addition to Ostrom and Donovan, the project team included Jose García-Pabón, Jessica Goldberger and Vicki McCracken of Washington State University, in partnership with the Washington State Farmers Market Action Team. Funding was provided by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agricultural Food Research Initiative.
Farmers market management toolkit: http://csanr.wsu.edu/washington-state-farmers-market-management-toolkit/. Directory and map of farmers markets in Washington: http://www.wafarmersmarkets.com/washingtonfarmersmarketdirectory.php.
Spring in the Pacific Northwest is finally here. Many fruit trees have started blooming, and the lawn already needs mowing. Whether you’re a budding gardener or a seasoned professional, WSU Extension is ready to help through the Home Garden Series of publications. Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington (Publication number EM057E), covers everything from choosing a garden site, to starting seeds, transplanting your starts, and managing pests. Short, individual fact sheets are available for growing specific crops such as onions (FS097E), carrots (FS118E), green beans (FS088E), squash (FS087E), sweet corn (FS104E), and more. Best of all, most all electronic publications are available at no charge (printed publications are available for a small fee).
Other fact sheets address single gardening topics such as organic soil amendments or organic fungicides. Find out what a cover crop is and how to grow one for overall garden health (FS111E and FS117E), or read about pruning equipment and how to choose and use the best tool for your pruning needs. You can also learn how to identify and encourage beneficial insects, spiders, and mites that are powerful partners in successful gardening (EM067E). And, if you want to turn that “verge” between the sidewalk and street into a garden, there’s even a free publication that can help you do that: Growing Food in Parking Strip and Front Yard Gardens (FS115E).
In 2014, WSU and fellow land-grant universities are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the federal Smith-Lever Act, which established the Cooperative Extension Service. As part of the year-long celebration, WSU Extension is asking students, faculty, staff, alumni, volunteers and friends to share their experiences of how Extension programs, services and people have enriched their lives. The goal is to collect 100 stories. To read the first batch submitted, go to http://ext100.wsu.edu/anniversary/storyproject/.
Please share yours at www.cahnrs.wsu.edu/extensionstories. For more information on the national celebration, visit http://www.extension100years.net. Connect for updates on WSU Extension celebrations at CAHNRS Facebook.
Soil, organic matter: location, location, location
Researchers are finding, in the US and in many other countries, that concentrating soil organic matter in the top 2 inches promotes several aspects of soil health including nutrient cycling, resistance to erosion, and water infiltration and storage. They find that maintaining a high proportion of organic matter at the soil surface, relative to deeper layers, is more important than the total level of organic matter in a soil.
One key measurement of soil health is organic matter content. The % organic matter of the top 6, 8, or 12 inches of soil is often used to evaluate whether a soil is improving or degrading. The total amount of organic matter in a soil is important, but research is showing, so is the location of the organic matter, especially when it is concentrated in the top 2 inches.
The soil surface is where wind and water erosion start, or are prevented, where gases are exchanged, where most soil microorganisms live, where most plant roots proliferate (especially when covered with crop residues), and perhaps most important in our region, where water enters the soil. So concentrating organic matter in this surface layer provides multiple benefits, controlling erosion, promoting gas exchange, microorganism activity, and root growth, and increasing water infiltration and movement into the soil profile. These, in turn, reduce runoff and nutrient loss and ultimately benefit the crop. This layer of concentrated organic matter gives you improved soil health.
The benefits from concentrating organic matter at the surface have been found to be greater than those from increased total organic matter, distributed in the soil profile. In one study, increased total organic matter improved water infiltration by 27%, but concentrating organic matter at the surface improved water infiltration by nearly 3x. Minimizing tillage is the key to getting these benefits. Tillage both reduces the total amount of organic matter by increasing decomposition and reduces surface organic matter by distributing it more evenly throughout the tillage zone. Read more.