LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ farmers markets play a vital role – from providing access to nutritious food and supporting sustainability to stimulating local economies and revitalizing rural communities.
That’s something worth celebrating.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the National Farmers Market Coalition, recognizes the first full week of August each year as National Farmers Market Week.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson also signed a proclamation, recognizing this week as Farmers Market Week in Arkansas. On Aug. 4, Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward presented a copy of the proclamation to Jeremy Adams, with the Arkansas Farmers Market Association at a small gathering at Rick’s Farm Stand in Maumelle.
Rick Jensen has operated the farm stand on Maumelle Boulevard for the past decade. He opened April 17 this year and said business has been good – even with the social distancing protocols in place – largely due to his social media following of 2,500.
Earlier this year, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture worked in partnership with the Arkansas Farmers’ Market Association to survey market managers about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their operations. Results of the survey are online at https://bit.ly/2PofTk2.
“It was an unusual year, to say the least, but even with the social distancing and many markets operating below capacity, direct-to-consumer sales have been good,” said Ron Rainey, professor of economics with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Direct-to-consumer purchase at Arkansas farmers markets and other direct marketing channels are valued at $9.2 million, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.
Arkansas has 111 farmers markets, with 80 percent of the state’s counties having at least one market. Rainey works with many of the markets, providing guidance on establishing and managing markets and working with individual vendors on marketing strategies to promote products.
The Cooperative Extension Service, part of the Division of Agriculture, provides ongoing support for farmers, producers, farmers market operators and vendors through its Local, Regional & Safe Foods unit.
Among the services provided:
- Produce Safety trainings and technical assistance on best practices for growing, harvesting, handling and holding of fresh produce (this includes how produce is displayed on vendor tables at the market)
- Technical assistance on Cottage Food Law and farmers market guidelines passed by the Arkansas Department of Health
- Webinars on produce safety for school, community and backyard gardens and food processing for farmers and food businesses
- Technical assistance on COVID-19 and best health practices at farmers market.
Additional resources for farmers market managers are available at https://bit.ly/2Pq0Tly.