Environment Picture

Farmers markets explode in Michigan, bringing economic, environmental benefits

Food’s fresher, energy use lower; money goes to growers instead of agribusiness
Here’s some economic news to brighten your summer and provide a catalyst for green jobs that can’t be outsourced: Michigan leads the country in the production of many tasty fruits and vegetables, and the next few months are prime time to find them at your local farm markets and roadside stands.

Michigan is second in the nation in agricultural diversity, with more than 200 crops that provide jobs, income and a bounty of flavor and nutrition for Michiganders.

Farmers markets, many of which start operations in May and run through the fall, are prime vehicles for distributing these locally grown treasures. They offer sights, sounds and scents that are uniquely Michigan while supporting local farmers, canners and crafters.

Michigan is expected to host more than 200 farmers markets in 2009, a number that has more than doubled since 2001 when there were 90.

“Michigan’s increase has followed a national trend,” said Dru Montri, manager of the Michigan Farmers Market Association. “There has been tremendous growth as people recognize the many benefits.”

Local and regional markets aren’t just good for the economy. They help maintain vibrant downtowns and reduce resource-hogging sprawl. They often cater to smaller family farm operations that use fewer chemicals or grow organic crops. And they sell food that is transported only a few miles rather than being trucked across the nation from Florida or California. The shorter trip from farm to table means fresher food and less pollution and global warming exhaust emissions.

“I think the light has finally gone on with the need to support local farmers,” said John Hooper, manager of the Lansing City Market. But he said creative ideas are needed to attract new shoppers. “We need to think in new innovative ways because the model that we have been using has run its course.”

Musicians, cooking demonstrations, children’s storytime and pig roasts are among the creative tools that have been used to enhance the farmers market experience in various Michigan locations.

There’s plenty of room for growth if consumers replaced part of their imported purchases with Michigan-grown products. A 2006 study by the Michigan Land Use Institute and Michigan State University concluded, “If Michigan farms tripled the relatively low volumes of their fruits and vegetables now going to higher-value fresh markets in Michigan, the state’s net farm income could increase by 14%, or $164 million annually.”

That could create 1,900 new jobs, the study concluded.

Markets located in downtowns and near other shopping areas are catalysts for the community. In a recent survey of customers at the Traverse City farmers market, 39% said they typically shop downtown before or after visiting the market. More than 75% said they would not be downtown at all if not for the market.

More resources for local goods and produce

“We shape our public spaces; thereafter, our public spaces shape us.”

—Winston Churchill

 

For information on where to find local farm markets near you, visit

www.farmersmarkets.msu.edu (2009 locations are expected to be added sometime in June)

 

To find or learn more about community supported agriculture operations in Michigan, visit

www.csafarms.org

 

To put local markets on your iPod:

iTunes subscribers can download the $2.99 Locavore application from the iTunes store to keep updated on all things local, ranging from which foods are in season, to how to cook your purchases, and where the nearest farmers market is located.

-Ashley Horvat for the Michigan Environmental Council
RELATED TOPICS: agriculture, food policy
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