The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that preliminary results of a survey indicate that the number of farmers markets nationwide increased more than 7 percent between 2005 and 2006.

The new numbers are based on an update of the National Farmers Market Directory by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), and the preliminary results of the 2006 USDA National Farmers Market Survey, conducted by AMS in partnership with Michigan State University.

Hugh Weathers, South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, said, “Farmers markets continue to be an increasing source of income for farmers.” “Their popularity in South Carolina is growing, and buyers enjoy fresh, locally grown products. We now have about 70 farmers markets in the state.”

The updated directory lists 4,385 farmers markets currently operating in the United States, representing a 7 percent increase from 4,093 farmers markets in 2005. As a result of the strong growth in the number of farmers markets, total sales volumes are estimated at about $1 billion for 2005, significantly larger than the estimated sales volume of $888 million in 2000.

Nationwide, average sales at individual farmers markets in 2005 totaled about $245,000; average annual sales per vendor totaled $7,108. Marketing opportunities at farmers markets were sufficiently favorable in 2005 that, on average, 25 percent of vendors from surveyed farmers markets relied on these markets as their sole source of farm-based income.

With the help of USDA programs like the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Farmers Market Nutrition Program and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, farmers markets provide low-income people with increased access to fresh foods. Through farmers markets in the South Carolina Department of Agriculture’s Community Based Farmers Market Program, Food Stamp beneficiaries may purchase locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables and other food items with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. Only farmers and/or farmers markets authorized by the South Carolina Department of Agriculture may accept and redeem the coupons.

The revised version of the National Farmers Market Directory can be accessed on-line at http://www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/map.htm. AMS is also developing a final research report based on the 2006 USDA National Farmers Market Survey expected to be available in spring 2007.

For more information about South Carolina’s farmers markets, call Fred Broughton, South Carolina Department of Agriculture Small Farms Program, 1-803-734-2224.