In 1994, the number of farmers markets in the U.S. was just under 2,000. Today, the USDA Farmers Market Directory has more than 8,600 markets. As this number has grown, so has support for farmers, access to fresh food, and local economies. In Kentucky, Community Farm Alliance (CFA) has worked for 36 years to help Kentucky communities, farmers markets, and producers reap those important benefits. This work is critical in a state encountering intense economic distress as communities transition from coal-based economies. The compounding effects of COVID-19 only added to this challenge. Thankfully, CFA has long been laying the groundwork to help Kentucky’s food systems remain resilient – no matter what comes their way.
Strengthening Markets Through Support Services
Through their Farmers Market Support Program (FMSP), CFA provides Kentucky farmers markets with the tools, resources, and networks needed to provide a sustainable, profitable market outlet for farmers. In 2020, the program supported markets in 20 counties across Appalachian Kentucky. If your community is looking for more information on how to start a farmers markets, CFA’s free toolkit is packed with helpful information.
Helping Markets Hire
As part of the FSMP, the Market Manager Cost Share (MMCS) Grant Program is a 1:1 cost-share for helping markets fund a market manager. While vendors usually assume this role, the need for a dedicated manager cannot be overstated. They help recruit vendors and oversee, promote, and grow the market. They also work to ensure positive interactions with all vendors, customers, and volunteers. Though managers collaborate with all vendors for planning and decisions, their presence allows vendors to truly focus on what they do best – growing and providing food for their communities.
Helping Producers Pivot during COVID
While COVID-19 caused many farmers markets – and consequently, producers – to shutter operations, others were able to quickly pivot. At the Perry County Farmers Market in Kentucky, a CFA FMSP member, vendor Happy Hens Homestead, LLC, saw stunning growth during the pandemic. Happy Hens was able to quickly pivot to online sales, which helped them stay connected with current customers and expand to new buyers. They used that momentum to increase crop production and start providing produce boxes for the Northfork Fresh Stop Market, another FMSP member. Happy Hens’ expansion during a global pandemic shows just how critical local food is – and how successful these opportunities can be when farmers are connected with the right outlets and tools.
“Perry County, with the support of CFA’s Farmers Market Support Program, is doing this farmers market thing right!” said Lindsey Stevens of the Happy Hens Homestead. “They offer many options for farmers to connect with the community; from the market itself, to the pre-order drive-thru markets which started during the pandemic, to the Fresh Stop Markets.”
The success of Happy Hens and the Perry County Farmers Market is just one example from the 57 markets supported by CFA’s programming in 2020. As Appalachia recovers from combined impacts of transitioning economies and COVID-19, farmers markets will continue serving as a gateway for growth and source of community strength. Given their service since 1985, it’s clear CFA will be there for local food every step of the way.