Farmers markets beneficial to consumers

It’s nice to go to a supermarket and get fresh fruit and vegetables, even during winter and even if they come from South America. But at this time of year, it’s even nicer to be able to buy items that were grown closer to home.

That’s one of the goals of local farmers markets, to help connect lower growers with local buyers.

Many of the vendors at local markets are small-scale farmers who plant just a few acres, rather than commercial vegetable growers. That smaller size means they have a better handle on the cultivation. In addition, buyers often can talk to the growers directly to find out how the crops were grown.

Farmers markets in the U.S. have become big business. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has tracked the number of markets in the country since 1994. The number has grown from 1,755 to 8,268 in the past 20 years. In 2012, more than $1.3 billion was spent at farmers markets across the country, the agency said.

In Indiana, direct-to-consumer sales from farmers markets as well as roadside stands reached nearly $27 million. That’s an increase from $22 million in 2007.

The markets have become increasingly popular in Bartholomew County.

Consumers have four local farmers markets — twice what was available a year ago — from which to choose. The Columbus Downtown Farmers Market operates on Saturdays through Sept. 19 in the Cummins Inc. corporate parking lot on Brown Street. The Columbus City Farmers Market opens Saturday and runs through Sept. 19 in the FairOaks Mall parking lot.

After a year’s hiatus, the Artisan Foodworks Market is operating the third Sunday of each month at the 240sweet parking lot at 9600 U.S. 31 North, Columbus. Upcoming dates are June 21, July 19, Aug. 16 and Sept. 20. The Farmers Market of Hope is new and operating Fridays through Sept. 25 at the Hope Town Square.

Vendors say their customers are more conscious of where their food comes from. They also understand the importance of buying local.

Farmers markets offer a practical bit of nostalgia. Buyers get a literal taste of Indiana’s agricultural heritage, but they also get fruits and vegetables that are grown close to home, which is good for the local economy.

We celebrate the growth of local farmers markets. Their continued success is good for both buyer and seller.