The Value of Farmers’ Markets in North Carolina: Highlights From the 2022 NC Farmers Market Census

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April is here, and many farmers’ markets are opening back up from the mountains to the coast across our state. After months of waiting, we can now enjoy those fresh fruits and vegetables, succulent local meats, delicious eggs, and beautifully-made baked goods we have all been craving during winter!

Have you ever wondered about how many farmers’ markets exist in North Carolina, and how they impact our local farmers and communities? Until recently, these questions would be hard to answer. But now, thanks to the efforts of the North Carolina Farmers Market Network (NCFMN) and NC State Extension, the first North Carolina Farmers Market Census has been released! Today we will highlight findings from this report to gain perspective on the various ways farmers’ markets operate to bring value as a collective to our state’s local food system. We will also mention how you can find and connect with farmers’ markets near you!

Many different markets, but one common goal

If you visit different farmers’ markets, you’ll notice that no two are exactly the same in how they are managed, the vendors and products they offer, as well as the activities and programs they provide vendors and consumers alike. Some markets are located in cities, while others are in rural or suburban areas; some have paid staff while others rely purely on volunteers to run their day-to-day operations. While farmers’ markets differ in various ways, they do have a common mission according to the NC Farmers Market Census: “to connect local farmers and producers with shoppers who can engage with their products on a trusted, personal level.” Farmers’ markets create space for communities to connect outside of work or the home around locally-produced foods and goods and help to sustain farming livelihoods as well as to stimulate local economies and promote health by increasing access to nutritious foods.

The Landscape and Impacts of Farmers’ Markets in North Carolina

The 2022 NC Farmers Market Census is the first survey of its kind to capture the impacts of farmers’ markets in North Carolina and the diverse ways they operate. Based on the NCFMN’s internal database, it is estimated that there are 194 active farmers’ markets in North Carolina found in 93 of our 100 counties. Of these 194 markets, 92 completed the census (47%). Many of the markets that responded are open year-round or on a weekly basis during peak crop growing seasons and offer a variety of events for community members to enjoy throughout the year. The most common events hosted at farmers’ markets included music, tasting or cooking demonstrations, holiday-themed events, and collaborative events with community partners to share resources and services. Most markets are also growing in size, with 80% of markets reporting that their vendor numbers increased between 2021 and 2022. Markets indicated having between 3 to 125 vendors on average per week, with 32 vendors being the average weekly number found at markets across the state.

Farmers’ markets provide a valuable opportunity for farmers, especially new and beginning farmers, as well as small businesses to market products and develop their consumer base. Many markets ask their vendors to share sales data to estimate the market’s impact for their businesses. It was found that farmers’ markets in North Carolina generated on average $2,792,840.11 in vendor sales during 2022. Markets also track the number of people who visit over the course of the year to see how many residents they reach. It was found that 6,183,441 people visited farmers’ markets in North Carolina in 2022.

Visit Your Local Farmers’ Markets!

Today we have learned more about the ways farmers’ markets make impacts for communities across our state. We hope you will visit a farmers’ market near you to meet and support our local farms and businesses as well as to learn about local agriculture, to socialize, and to celebrate our diverse communities. You can find farmers’ markets near you by using web resources such as the NC Farm Fresh and Got to Be NC websites as well as the Visit NC Farms App, all developed by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Along with many other markets across the state, the Sanford Farmers’ Market will be opening this month in Lee County! Starting April 20th and lasting until November 9th, the Sanford Farmers’ Market will host weekly markets on Saturday mornings from 8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. The market is located at 115 Chatham Street in downtown Sanford, in the parking lot directly across from Yarborough’s Homemade Ice Cream & Grill.

For more information about farmers’ markets and their impacts in our community, contact North Carolina Cooperative Extension at the Lee County Center and ask for Meredith Favre, our Local Foods Coordinator for more information.