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October 2008

From Their Field to Your Table

Demand for locally grown produce boosts Texas farmers

by Tracey Lamphere

Fresh produce from farmers’ markets entices many people to introduce seasonal fruits and vegetables into their diet. Others make the trip to the market because they want to meet the grower. All these reasons drive demand for locally grown produce.

From the Ground Up

The number of Texas farmers’ markets has increased steadily over the years. The state has 99 certified farmers’ markets – those that meet specific Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) criteria on governance and number of growers. Although that number is down from 110 in 2007, the overall trend is toward more certified farmers’ markets, says Richard De Los Santos, TDA marketing coordinator for horticulture, produce and forestry.

“Four or five years ago there were about 88 certified markets,” he says. “It’s just been over the past three years that the number has grown to 100.”

That growth in Texas echoes a nationwide surge, from 1,755 markets in 1994 to 4,385 in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

TDA doesn’t track revenue generated by farmers’ markets, but the USDA estimates that nationally, these markets contribute more than $1 billion annually to the nation’s economy.

Rooted in Texas

Texas farmers’ markets range in size from just a few vendors to hundreds. Many began as informal gatherings where growers would sell their crops to the surrounding community. One of the largest examples of this is the Dallas Farmers’ Market. Its roots go back to the late 1800s as a collection of produce wagons. Now open 365 days a year, the market offers cooking classes, meeting facilities, flowers, meats and specialty items.

An estimated 1 million consumers visit each year, some in search of fresher produce with fewer miles traveled and more intense flavor, says Janel Leatherman, administrator of the market. But there are other benefits to buying local.

“Food safety is one of the big reasons people shop at farmers’ markets,” she says.

Risks are reduced significantly because it takes fewer steps to get the produce to the customer. If there were an outbreak, it would not be as widespread and easier to pinpoint the source.

“Also, nutritionally, people also tend to get more bang for their buck,” she says.

To a Store Near You

H-E-B began organizing markets last year. During the summer months, the Texas-based grocer transforms part of the parking lot at selected locations and hosts produce vendors.

“It’s a way to tell our customers ‘know your farmers, know your food,’” says Cory Oliver, H-E-B produce business development manager.

Oliver says the markets, which can produce $50,000 to $60,000 in sales for the vendors, have been wildly popular. FN

Number of Operating Farmers’ Markets

  • 2,746
    in 1998
  • 2,863
    in 2000
  • 3,137
    in 2002
  • 3,706
    in 2004
  • 4,385
    in 2006
  • 4,685
    in 2008

Source: USDA-AMS-Marketing Services Division

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