WASHINGTON—The number of U.S. farmers’ markets continues to increase, and Virginia now has enough to place it among the nation’s top 10 market states. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the number of direct-sales markets has increased 9.6 percent in the past year. Virginia markets have increased to 227, tying it for ninth place with Iowa. “It’s very exciting that Virginia now ranks in the top 10,” said Tony Banks, commodity marketing specialist for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “The market growth indicates continued consumer demand, and it creates opportunities for farmers of all sizes.” After 18 years of steady increases, the number of farmers’ markets across the country now registered with the USDA is 7,864. In 1994, there were 1,744. “I think there are a variety of reasons farmers’ markets are so popular,” said Gayle Price, a market manager for the Fredericksburg City Farmer’s Market. “Among them, … a desire for nostalgia, for ‘how things used to be,’ wanting to support local businesses and farmers, and better education about the real cost of food.” Today some markets are so popular that they have waiting lists for interested vendors. The USDA has worked to make the markets accessible to people of all income levels by outfitting more with the ability to accept payments from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program. “These folks were largely shut out of the market before,” Price said of SNAP clients. “I hope we are helping to dispel the notion that market shopping is only for the affluent. I do try to coach my shoppers on how to buy things affordably at the market.” And she makes a point to buy everything she needs to eat for a week at the market. “Not because I’m a market manager, but because locally grown food is the way I choose to feed my family.” The country’s top agricultural producing state, California, leads the nation with 827 farmers’ markets. The mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Southeast saw the biggest percentage growth in markets, reporting 15.8 percent, 14.4 percent and 13.1 percent jumps in participation, respectively. “The growth in the number of farmers’ markets over the past few years has been phenomenal; every time you think it might be hitting a peak, it surges again,” said Spencer Neale, VFBF commodity marketing specialist. “For agriculture it’s a win-win. An entire generation of Americans is connecting with farmers and learning about agriculture.” Contact Banks at 804-290-1114, Neale at 804-290-1153 or Price at 540-226-2990.