The agriculture outreach division of South Dakota State University has released a manual that aims at helping interested and existing farmers markets' vendors navigate regulations and become successful merchants as the number of markets in the state increases.
Farmers markets have grown in popularity in the U.S. over the past two decades, and with triple the number of these local marketplaces between 2008 and 2015, South Dakota has not been an exception. Now, SDSU Extension hopes its manual addressing state regulations, food safety practices, product pricing and several other guidelines will become a one-stop shop for vendors on what can sometimes be an overwhelming task of working a booth at markets.
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"Producers are learning from each other, so they are seeing this as an opportunity," SDSU Extension community development field specialist Chris Zdorovtsov cited as a reason why producers are increasingly choosing to participate in farmers markets. "People are getting creative in the way they can remain — and have an income — in their smaller communities. So, they may retire from a current job, or maybe they are a younger farmer who wants to start a business, but they're finding producing local foods as a way they can still live where they want to live and make some money."
SDSU Extension data shows the state has gone from having about 20 markets in 2008 to 45 in 2012 and around 60 this year. Nationwide, the number of markets has steadily increased from 1,755 in 1994 to 8,268 last year, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The federal agency offers an online directory of farmers markets searchable by ZIP code and encourages vendors to accept food stamps to give more people a chance to buy locally grown, farm fresh food.
Producer Paul Warner, who began selling vegetables at a farmers market in 1998 in Madison, said not much information was available about regulations and best practices during his first years as a vendor.
"Something like that when we started would've been helpful," Warner said of SDSU's manual. He now sells about 60 percent of the produce from his farm at two farmers markets in Sioux Falls. "Previously, you were pretty much on your own. You had to do research and Internet searches to universities."
From the consumer standpoint, Zdorovtsov said more markets are being established because people "are more willing" to purchase products from local vendors as "they want to know the person they are buying the food from." She added that at least two South Dakota farmers markets accept SNAP benefits and the state Department of Social Services provides free card-reader machines to the vendors to specifically accept SNAP cards.
"You know the people are excited to buy from you at the market and to talk directly to you are the person who grew that crop from a feed or a transplant all the way through and you can answer any questions that they may have and you develop a lot of repeat customers," Warner said. "It's really satisfying to have that relationship with those customers."
SDSU's "2015 Farmers Market Resource Manual" is available online at: http://bit.ly/1RhwxJD