Wholesome, right-from-the-farm products are easier to get than ever.Years ago getting fresh veggies, flowers or maybe meat and eggs straight from the farmer was a rare, sort of retro experience. If you happened to be driving along a country road and saw a farm stand, you might stop and pick up a few things. But it was definitely a once-in-a-while happening.No longer. Now there are farmers markets everywhere and throngs of people shop at them regularly.The numbers tell the tale - in the mid-1990s there were 12 farmers markets in all of the state. Today, according to Gail McWilliam Jellie at the N.H. Agriculture Department, there are 86 farmers markets - a six-fold increase.Most of them are in town centers - in parks, municipal parking lots, places where there's parking and easy access by foot and in some cases public transportation.Aside from making shoppers happy, the phenomenon has been a boon to farmers. "It's provided a whole other marketing avenue," says Jellie. It can be added to traditional ventures like pick-your-own and wholesale business. Plus, adds Jellie, the markets provide an opportunity to advertise the fact that "a farm isn't far away and you can go there six days a week, without waiting."In the last few years, winter farmers markets have been added to the mix - there are now 20 of them. To accommodate the winter demand, farmers have expanded their production of storage crops, crops that keep well, like apples, squash, potatoes and carrots. Some have added greenhouses to grow greens that can be harvested in the winter. Honey, cheeses and meats are available in winter, too.Why the new-found interest in farmers markets? Jellie says it started in the mid-1990s when a federal nutrition program gave low-income people coupons to buy only farm produce. In more recent years, Main Street programs have encouraged the markets as a way to draw people into town. And, lastly, there's been a surge in demand for locally produced products.At some point, says Jellie, the steady growth in farmers markets will come to an end; it's already leveled off: "There are a finite number of farmers in the state."
This article appears in the September 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine