A frenzy for fresh: Delaware farmers markets top $3 million in sales in 2021

By Mike Finney
Posted 1/27/22

DOVER — The desire among consumers to purchase locally grown food remained strong in 2021, as the Delaware Department of Agriculture announced that the state’s farmers markets posted nearly $3.16 million in sales last year.

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A frenzy for fresh: Delaware farmers markets top $3 million in sales in 2021

Posted

DOVER — The desire among consumers to purchase locally grown food remained strong in 2021, as the Delaware Department of Agriculture announced that the state’s farmers markets posted nearly $3.16 million in sales last year.

It marked the second-highest sales year on record for the markets, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Actually, Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse said that, contrary to popular belief, COVID-19 has aided the success of First State farmers markets because many residents rely on family farms to provide produce, meat, fresh eggs, honey and more.

“When the pandemic first hit, people quickly realized that food wasn’t readily available at their grocery stores,” Mr. Scuse said. “For many Delawareans, it was their first time reaching out to a farm or visiting a farmers market, so they could put food on their table.

“We hoped consumers would pick up in 2021 where they left off in 2020, realizing farmers play a significant role in providing fresh, nutritious products grown right here in Delaware. And they did.”

Sales from 18 Delaware community-run farmers markets totaled $3,159,175 last year, the Department of Agriculture reported. Three markets did not provide sales figures, which would have likely put the rate closer to the 2019 record of $3,277,788.

Fresh produce made up 55% of total sales. The remainder came from products such as meats, cheeses, jellies, breads, salsas, eggs or honey.

Additionally, 13 markets participated in the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and the Women, Infants and Children Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program last year.

The initiative for seniors had its highest participation since Delaware began offering those benefits in 2018.

Seven markets participated in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, which expands access for low-income residents to purchase fresh local produce at Delaware farmers markets.

Delaware’s success within farmers markets follows a national trend. Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service began tracking them in 1994, the number of markets nationwide has grown to 8,720 and increased about 7.1% from 2013.

Total annual sales at U.S. farmers markets are estimated at $1 billion, USDA said.

In 2021, Delaware was no stranger to that bountiful business.

“This past year, we saw several new farmers markets open, offering more opportunities for both customers and vendors,” said Kathy Jackson, spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Agriculture.

“We also experienced a change in the length of our market season this year. With great weather and a bountiful growing season, consumers wanted to take advantage of all the fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and other items that local farms had to offer. So we had several established markets expand into late fall to benefit both the consumer and the farmer.”

Farmers markets in Delaware are run by municipalities, business groups, farmers or market associations, while the Department of Agriculture provides support and marketing assistance.

This year’s market season will begin in April; most locations start operations in May and June. A list of farmers markets that opened in 2021 can be found here. The index will be updated in late March for the 2022 season.

Farmers and others interested in becoming vendors or groups looking to begin a local market can contact Ms. Jackson at 302-698-4625 or kathy.jackson@delaware.gov.