COLUMBUS, Ohio — An influx of farmers’ market statistics from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) indicates there is not only growth of these local hot spots, but demand has soared. A USDA National Farmers Market Directory now lists 8,268 markets, an increase of 76 percent over 2008.
"The data reflects continued demand in every region of the country," said Anne Alonzo, AMS administrator. "The numbers reflect the continued importance of farmers’ markets to American agriculture. Farmers’ markets play an extremely important role for both farmers and consumers, bringing urban and rural communities together while creating economic growth and increasing access to fresh, healthy foods."
Farmers’ markets in southwestern Ohio have enjoyed much success and there are six key markets serving Butler County alone, with the oldest in Hamilton. Hamilton’s Historic Farmers’ Market dates back to 1875 and was started by a small group of local farmers and other area vendors.
The market closed during World War II, then reopened until the mid-1950s. After a two-year absence at that time, it was revitalized and today offers 26 vendors at its location on Courthouse Square.
"Hamilton has a strong, beautiful history, with the market being part of it," said Jenni Hubbard, market coordinator. "We don’t want to lose the farmers’ market feel. Rather, we want to grow to encourage and educate the community on the benefits of eating and buying local."
Butler County offers farmers’ markets in Fairfield Township, West Chester Township, Oxford, Middletown and Madison Township. Ditto for Warren County, where most such markets are relatively new. In Lebanon the market near downtown started roughly 10 years ago and now has fruits, vegetables, organic meats, honey, fresh cut flowers and natural soaps.
"Our market has been well-received and it’s very popular," said Deputy City Manager Scott Brunka. "We have a strong customer base."
In Middletown, officials are proud of their market, though it’s only in its second season. "Things are going extremely well," said Executive Director Patrick Kay, of Downtown Middletown, Inc. "The market continues to attract vendors as well as new and regular customers each week."
The largest growing city in this county is Mason and the farmers’ market in this burg of 36,000 has grown with it. Begun in 2003, the market was first in the parking lot of a discount store but its popularity dictated it be moved to a more central location. Spearheading this effort from the start was Butch Schappacher of Schappacher Farms in Mason.
Other farmers’ markets in Warren County include Deerfield Township and Morrow. The latter is spearheaded by The Big Five Farm and Hickory Grove Farm.
There are 311 farmers’ markets in the state and the number increases each year. According to USDA’s 2014 National Farmers Market Directory, California leads with the most markets, at 764. New York follows with 638, Michigan ranks third with 339 and Ohio is fourth with 311.