A quarter century ago, Connecticut agricultural officials had 22 farmers markets on their official list. Thanks to a boom in consumer interest in fresh, healthy and locally grown produce and other farm products, that number has soared to 130.
In Hartford County today there are 34 farmers markets certified by the state Department of Agriculture.
| A Selection of Hartford County Farmers Markets|
Bloomfield Farmers Market
Collinsville Farmers Market
East Hartford Farmers Market
Enfield Farmers Market
Farmington – Hill-Stead Museum
Glastonbury Farmers Market
Granby Farmers Market
Hartford — Billings Forge
Hartford — Capitol Ave.
Hartford — Homestead (New in 2012)
Hartford — North End Farmers Market
Hartford — Old State House
Hartford — Park Street
Hartford — West End Farmers Market
Manchester Farmers Market
Manchester — CCC Farmers Market
Bill Duesing, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, says this state isn't alone in experiencing a big expansion in the number of farmers markets and a growth in consumer support for them.
The United States Department of Agriculture in early August reported a 9.6 percent increase in farmers' market listings nationwide compared to a year ago. The federal agency now has 7,864 farmers markets in its public directory.
Some folks tend to sneer at the organic, locally grown, support-your-hometown-farmer movement as something that only tree-hugging elitists care about.
That hasn't been the experience of the people running the Farmers' Market at Billings Forge, which has been operating since 2007 in one of the poorer neighborhoods in Hartford.
In just one year, the Billings Forge market saw its sales double — and those were local residents using federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (formerly known as "food stamps") to buy veggies.
"Our goal is to provide healthy food in this community, where there isn't a lot available," says Cori Mackey, a spokesperson for the market.
She says the inner-city response to having that sort of fresh, locally grown food available came as something of a surprise. "Farmers markets are considered more for suburban communities, and elite communities," Mackey says. "We've been thrilled by the response we got here."
The Billings Forge market, like several others around the state, will give a person using $10 worth of federal food benefits up to $20 worth of vegetables.
Mackey thinks the response from people living in this section of Hartford isn't much different from suburbanites who go to their local farmers markets.
"If you have the opportunity to buy food directly from the person growing it… you certainly feel better eating that food when you know who grew it and where it came from," Mackey says.
"One of the cool things about our market is that a bunch of different communities come together," she adds. There are inner-city folks and people from nearby state offices and businesses who mingle during the Thursday market days. "They're people from all different socio-economic backgrounds," according to Mackey.
The rise of farmers markets has coincided with more news about and more consumer anxiety over genetically modified foods and sickness caused by what's being produced by our agro-industrial complex.
Duesing believes this dramatic expansion of interest in farmers markets is also partly a "reflection of people — especially young people — wanting to grow food."
"They see it as a path to a healthy, sustainable future," Duesing says.