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More Farms Vie for the $1 Billion Spent at Farmers' Markets

The locavore movement has created a $1 billion opportunity
Farmers' markets boost margins and help growers understand shoppers
Farmers' markets boost margins and help growers understand shoppersPhotograph by Patrick Schneider

For decades, Beechwood Orchards in Biglerville, Pa., sold its apples, peaches, and other fruits and veggies to wholesalers, who would then consolidate the produce with shipments from other farms and dispatch it to supermarkets across the region. These days, Beechwood is more often cutting out the middlemen. The orchard’s owners, Melissa Allen and her brother, now travel to as many as 14 farmers’ markets a week in places as distant as Leesburg, Va., a three-hour drive away. The family gets about half its revenue from direct sales to consumers. “It’s a new way to do things at a farm that has been around 100 years,” says Allen, the fifth generation of her family to work the soil at Beechwood.

The number of farmers’ markets in the U.S. has nearly doubled since 2004, to more than 7,000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, throwing a lifeline to struggling family farms. Though only about 2 percent of farm sales in the U.S. are retail, the USDA estimates that consumers spent $1 billion at farmers’ markets last year. Growers today “are willing to try new things, new products, interact with customers,” says Nicky Uy, a senior associate at the Food Trust, a Philadelphia nonprofit that runs 26 markets. “It bodes well for the future of small farms, especially near big cities.”