Arkansas’ farmers markets have nearly doubled in numbers in the last decade, ranking the state among the top 10 for growth. Nationwide, the increase is about 76 percent in the past six years, according to information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - and Cabot Farmers Market helped build the trend.
The effect of the markets was highlighted with National Farmers Market Week, Aug. 3 - 9. "Farmers markets play a key role in developing local and regional food systems that support family farms, and help grow rural economies. They bring communities together, connecting cities with the farms that support them and provide Americans across the country with fresh, healthy food," Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack remarked.
"This is the seventh year for us, and it has gotten bigger every year," market manager Matt Webber said. The market is sponsored by Cabot City Beautiful. "Somebody brought it up at a meeting and we decided it is something we could do to promote our local produce and people," he said.
Arkansas has nearly 100 farmers markets listed in the USDA farmers market directory. The 2012 Census of Agriculture estimates the total value of agricultural sales direct to consumers in Arkansas - which includes farmers markets, roadside stands, U-picks and online sales – at about $6.3 million.
The Cabot market began with four vendors in a parking lot by the railroad, Webber said. "But you couldn’t hold a conversation there, so we found another place." That was when the market moved to the parking lot of First Security Bank.
Ron Rainey, professor of economics for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, estimates that the number of farmers markets in Arkansas has doubled over the last decade, with the Fayetteville Farmers Market, River Market in Little Rock and Argenta Farmers Market in North Little Rock and Jonesboro farmers market, some of the largest in Arkansas.
Webber said the bank parking lot was a "great location," being at the intersection of two of the area’s busiest highways. "But we outgrew it. By the grace of God this year we got another place when the pastor of Re:New church asked if we wanted to try using their parking lot," Webber said.
"We now have 22 vendors, and plenty of space for more, and lots of parking space, too," he said.
There are eight more weeks for the Cabot market, which is open 8 a.m. to noon each Saturday in the parking lot of Re:New Church, 1122 South Second Street, near the intersection of Richie Road.
Local growers who have not yet tried the market still have the opportunity to market their produce, especially the end-of-season harvest, and local craftsmen have a great setting to let people see their work, Webber said. Reservations are not needed; there is plenty of space for vendors, he said.
Rainey said the tremendous demand for locally grown foods is the driving force of the increase. "Consumers are increasingly wanting to know their food and farmers and how it was produced," he said. "They are willing to pay the premium."
Also, meeting the producers creates a sense of trust. "When you go to grocery stores, you don’t meet the farmers," Rainey said. Also, apart from economic, fresh produce and health reasons, farmers markets are also venues for entertainment and community engagement.
Webber said the Cabot Farmers Market has seen more participation by local artisans displaying everything from artwork to woodcraft and hand-sewn clothing. It may be called a Farmers Market, but it is a forum for the community, where people can meet and get to know the people they are buying from, Webber said.
"We try to have some entertainment each week," any area performers can contact CCB about coming for a morning, Webber said.
For more information on vendor space at Cabot Farmers Market, call 501-920-2122.
Other information about farmers markets or marketing produce, contact the Lonoke County Extension Service, 501-676-3124; or go online to the Southern Risk Management Education Center at http://srmec.uark.edu/ or Arkansas MarketMaker at http://ar.foodmarketmaker.com/.
The USDA Arkansas farmers market directory can be found online at http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/)
Information was drawn from an article by Kezia Nanda for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.