News Demand For Farmers Markets On Rise In Alabama

Demand For Farmers Markets On Rise In Alabama

Demand For Farmers Markets On Rise In Alabama
April 23, 2007 |

The popularity of the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign and Alabama’s farmers market nutrition programs has increased demand for locally grown produce and created new opportunities for the state’s farmers, according to the state Farmers Market Authority (FMA).”In 1999, we had 17 farmers markets in Alabama; today there are 95,” said FMA Director Don Wambles. “This has created a great opportunity for farmers, whether they are part-time farmers or run a cattle or poultry operation looking to diversify.”Statewide, about 950 farmers have been authorized by the FMA to participate in farmers market nutrition programs. These programs provide resources to low-income women and children and seniors, allowing them to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers at local markets. This year, the nutrition programs will have a direct economic benefit to Alabama farmers of about $1.5 million, up from $20,000 in 1999. Wambles estimates farmers markets sales statewide are between $8.5 million and $10 million annually.But Wambles said the popularity of these programs and a renewed interest by consumers to “buy local,” has created a shortage of produce at some markets.”About 25 percent of our farmers markets are in serious need of more producers,” he said. “Demand is so high that, in some places, farmers are selling out in one or two hours, and customers who arrive later in the day are being turned away.”Brian Hardin, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Horticulture Division, said the development of new markets and a new customer base is a good thing for Alabama agriculture.”A lot of times, we see the need for new markets to accommodate the production we have,” Hardin said. “Now, we are in the situation where it is reversed. Our markets are outpacing our produce supply, and that is a positive for Alabama farmers looking to diversify.”Farmers don’t have to make a huge investment to tap into these thriving markets. In fact, Wambles said a one-acre, irrigated vegetable plot is enough for most farmers to get started in the produce business.Wambles estimates it would take about $750 to put in an acre of drip irrigation with plastic mulch, plus another $300-$400 for seed and fertilizer — if the farmer already has the land and small tillage equipment. With that kind of an investment, a farmer might expect to make as much as $2,500 on an acre of vegetables, if he markets what he grows.Irrigation, however, is a must if you are going to successfully grow produce in Alabama, Wambles said.”We’ve got to take rainfall out of the equation. Dry weather cannot be a limiting factor in fruit and vegetable production,” he said.As for what a farmer should plant, Wambles said traditional Southern crops like peas, squash and tomatoes are in high demand, with some rural markets running short on those items every year. The surging Hispanic population and growing interest in organic foods also present opportunities for farmers to grow specialty crops.Although opportunities exist for growers to get involved in the produce business, Wambles noted that it’s not for everyone.
“It requires a lot of labor. All of these vegetables grown for retail are hand harvested. A farmer needs to be prepared to work in the afternoons and on the weekends,” he said.Wambles added that fruit and vegetable growers can double or triple their customer base by attending two or three different farmers markets within about an hour of their farms each week. For more information about production practices, contact Hardin at 1-800-392-5705, ext. 4217 or or your local Extension agent. For marketing information, contact Wambles at 1-877-774-9519 or A list of farmers markets as well as online certification for the farmers market nutrition programs is available at

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