Farmers’ Market Innovations Make Healthy Food an Easy Option

Innovative ideas are make farmers markets better for shoppers seeking sustainably grown, in-season food.

By Leah Zerbe

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Facebook farm updates
You've probably heard of the make-believe Facebook farming game FarmVille, but the truth is, many real farmers and farmers' markets are creating Facebook accounts to keep fans in the know. For instance, you don't have to guess what produce, herbs, and flowers will be at this weekend's farmers' market. With a Facebook farm update, you can likely put together most of your shopping list before you even leave the house. Along these same lines, some farmers are also send text messages to members to keep them up-to-date on farmers’ market appearances and other info.

Tweeting the harvest
"A lot of farmers are Tweeting," explains author Lynn Byczynski, editor of Growing for Market. "That way, customers can hear about the latest on what they'll be bringing to market that week."

She says one good example of a social-media-savvy farm is Kilpatrick Family Farm in upstate New York, where growers Tweet, blog, and Facebook about crop offerings and market appearances. (Yes, they even find time to farm amidst such robust social media efforts!)

Growers going gourmet
Not all farmers’ market innovations involve technology. Some actually involve going back to the roots of farming. The return of older varieties prized for amazing taste—produce like gourmet fingerling potatoes, delicate skinned heirloom tomatoes, and purple carrots—are making a major comeback at farmers’ markets. "Growers have really expanded the range of crops they grow and sell locally," says Byczynski. "There is so much gourmet produce at farmers’ markets now, things you don't ever see at grocery stores. The quality of the products now is so much better than what it was 10 years ago."

Heirloom seedlings
Many farmers’ market vendors are not only selling produce they grow, but also helping customers start their own gardens. Byczynski says selling heirloom seedlings is becoming all the rage of farmers’ markets, which makes life easier for busy shoppers who don't have time to start seedlings (or may have forgotten) earlier in the year.

SNAP payments and gardens
Many farmers’ markets have also secured the necessary equipment to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) payments. Stacy Miller, executive director of the Farmers Market Coalition, says the hope is that vendors and markets will soon be able to process SNAP benefits by iPhone for even more seamless transactions. For now, USDA's Farmers Markets search tool shows markets that are enabled to accept SNAP benefits, although that is based on self reporting. (Click "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program" under "Forms of Payment Accepted" for participating markets.)

SNAP gardens
Customers receiving SNAP benefits (previously called food stamps) are also able to use the funds to buy vegetable or fruit plants for their own home gardens. The problem is, many people don't know about it. SNAPGardens.org is leading the charge to educate, and you may see some signs depicting this benefit at your farmers’ market.

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