New report recommends ways to strengthen farmers markets and bolster rural areas

King County’s flourishing farmers markets offer a great selection of tasty and nutritious food while providing a boost to local farmers. A new report includes several recommendations to help ensure the stability of farmers markets well into the future.

“The growing popularity of farmers markets across King County is a very positive development, but we can’t take them for granted and must continue to explore new ways of supporting them,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Farmers markets are the best place for people to find out how tasty and fresh locally-grown food can be, and to support our rural economy.

“By strengthening farmers markets across the county, we not only improve the future of farming here, but also bolster the small businesses that form the fabric of our communities,” he added.

Among the recommendations in the King County Farmers Market Report are:

  • Increasing the visibility of markets through a coordinated marketing campaign;
  • Expanding capabilities for markets to take electronic payment cards, rather than just cash;
  • Develop a strategy to help farmers markets identify locations and organizational structure to offer the best opportunity for success;
  • Expanding support for farmers across the county; and
  • Developing education and training for farmers markets managers, many of whom are part-time or volunteers.

The report was written by staff from the Agriculture Program in the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks and summarizes information gathered through questionnaires and meetings with farmers and farmers market managers. Executive Constantine submitted the report to the Metropolitan King County Council on March 15 in response to a proviso in the 2010 King County Budget.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Farmers markets have increased from seven to 39 in the past decade, with annual sales showing a similar rise, from approximately $3.5 million in 1999 to more than $20 million in 2009.
  • Some markets have been in operation for two decades, while others have opened within the past year.
  • Some market see a few thousand shoppers a year, with annual sales of less than $100,000, while others see hundreds of thousands of shoppers with sales exceeding $3 million per year.
  • There is not adequate regional funding to support current services that ensure the viability of farmers’ markets, let alone address additional support needs identified in the report. Both current and new services are critical to sustaining economically viable agriculture in King County.

Support for the Farmers Market Report was provided by farmers and market managers, the Washington State University Small Farms Program, the Washington State Farmers Market Association, the King Conservation District, and the Cascade Harvest Coalition.

Expansion of successful programs that safeguard working farms in rural King County was among the themes sounded in the Executive’s inaugural address in November.

Executive Constantine earlier submitted to the County Council a report titled, “Future of Agriculture, Realize Meaningful Solutions” (FARMS), which offered numerous recommendations for resolving challenges to farming related to flooding, drainage and irrigation; economic development; keeping farmers farming; farmer succession; developing a farm-city connection; and financial support for the county’s agriculture program.

Read the King County Farmers Market Report at: www.kingcounty.gov/environment/waterandland/agriculture/documents/farmers-market-report.aspx

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