San Francisco Farmers Market
It is not easy nor is it a financial windfall to become a farmers market producer. For entry level producers or “greenhorns”, it is important to pick a smart location that has a receptive public, à la consumer.
Market growers have a large amount of preparation required before they load their products, drive sometimes great distances to their market, set up their display, sit through all kinds of weather, and then wait to see if the consumer antes up before they pack up their perishables to return home. CSA (community supported agriculture) contracts are a more secure income for these producers.
The number of farmers markets in the U.S. has increased more than four-fold since 1994, when the USDA began keeping track of their numbers. In August of 2012, there were 7,828 farmers markets operating in the United States. Nearly forty percent of the nation’s farmers markets are in metro areas which have a reliable consumer base.
The highest concentration of markets are found in California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. The red areas in the map below show where the greatest increase in the number of farmers markets has occurred over the past four years.
In related news, the USDA has announced that it will begin to provide micro loans of up to $35,000 to help small farmers, minorities, veterans, and “disadvantaged” producers start-up farm operations.
The program can be used to finance hoop houses to extend the growing season, essential tools, irrigation, delivery vehicles, and annual expenses such as seed, fertilizer, utilities, land rents, marketing, and distribution expenses. As their financing needs increase, applicants can apply for an operating loan up to the maximum amount of $300,000.
When announcing the loan program, Vilsack said that the “USDA continues to help grow a new generation of farmers, while ensuring the strength of an American agriculture sector that drives our economy, creates jobs, and provides the most secure and affordable food supply in the world.”
As we all know, the above statement is a stretch of the truth at best, because today’s high land prices and rents which result from policies of crop insurance, direct payments for monoculture crops produced by very large farms, and the corn ethanol mandate, are reasons that it is next to impossible for a “greenhorn” to begin a farming operation. While access to credit is important, being able to turn out a profit is even more important.
Since the average age of the farmer in the U.S. is 57, and the fastest growing segment is the over-65 age group, it is clear that we need younger replacement farmers. And the new and underemployed generation of capable workers includes many who would like to enter the occupation of farming.
What a new generation of farmers really needs is policy support in the next Farm Bill. “Get big or get out” continues to be the dominant trend in agriculture in the U.S.