Tips for Enjoying Local Products and Supporting Mississippi Farmers
This article was adapted from Mississippi Farm Country Magazine, the official publication of Mississippi Farm Bureau. The magazine is a benefit to members of Mississippi Farm Bureau. To join the federation, visit Mississippi Farm Bureau online.
By Alex Jacks, Communications and Marketing Specialist
Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce
As the sun begins to stay in the sky a little longer, and the air gets hotter, the fruit and vegetable plants in Mississippi’s fields grow bigger, until their limbs are hanging under the weight of a prized piece of food. Only then does a farmer harvest the field and prepare to sell the product that was cultivated. In some instances, the farmer gathers the food to ship across the country, but in many cases, the farmer hauls it to a local farmers market to share the product with the community.
The popularity of farmers markets continues to grow in Mississippi as consumers pursue healthier lifestyles. When farmers and other vendors gather to sell their products directly to consumers, a farmers market is formed. There are 88 farmers markets in 59 counties throughout Mississippi, including the Mississippi Farmers Market in Jackson, which is located at 929 High St. adjacent to the Mississippi Fairgrounds.
The number of markets in the state has grown exponentially in 10 years, according to Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, Cindy Hyde-Smith.
“There were only 23 local farmers markets in Mississippi in 2006,” she said. “That number has grown to what it is now for many reasons, especially since our farmers and consumers have realized the benefits farmers markets bring to communities across the state.”
Farmers markets provide farmers with the opportunity to educate the public about their product, while selling it at a retail price, Hyde-Smith said.
“This benefits our communities by supporting the people who live in them, all while keeping money within the local economy,” she said.
Selling at farmers markets allows farmers and other vendors to interact with the consumer, promote their business and distribute their products through an additional avenue.
“We highly encourage farmers and other vendors to participate in their local markets,” Hyde-Smith said. “It is a good opportunity for them to get out there and promote themselves.”
In an effort to help the farmers and vendors who sell at farmers markets, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce developed the Mississippi Certified Farmers Market Program to attract consumers to their local market. This voluntary branding promotes and identifies a marketplace for Mississippi-grown fruits, vegetables, plant materials and other products made or processed in the state. Consumers also benefit in many ways from having a farmers market in their community.
“By shopping at local farmers markets, customers have access to fresh and healthy produce, “Hyde-Smith said. “It also gives them the opportunity to interact and talk to our Mississippi farmers directly about production practices and food preparation.
In addition, farmers markets provide consumers with a wide variety of high-quality produce, as well as other agricultural products. Many farmers markets offer consumers more than just fruits and vegetables. Farmers market shoppers can often find plants; fresh cut flowers; dairy products such as milk and cheese; meat products such as beef and pork; eggs; specialty foods such as jams, jellies, baked goods; and handmade works from local artists.
With all the benefits to farmers markets, it is no surprise that farmers and consumers are spending more time and more money locally.
When shopping at your local farmers market, here are a few tips to remember:
Farmers bring the amount of produce they anticipate to sell each week. They do not want to haul extra produce around that will spoil. Consumers should arrive at their local farmers market early to ensure they get the fruits and vegetables they want for the week.
Know What Is In Season
Consumers should do a little research prior to shopping at a local farmers market in order to keep their expectations in check. They should know that produce will be in season when going shopping to prevent disappointment when a farmer does not have something. Shoppers will not find Mississippi strawberries at the market in November.
Try New Things
Farmers in Mississippi have the ability to grow crops that few consumers know about or have ever tried. Keep an open mind and try new things when visiting a local farmers market.
Get to Know the Farmers and Ask Questions
It becomes easier to try a new, odd-looking vegetable when a consumer knows the farmer. Do not be afraid to ask how something is grown or how to cook it.
Check Out the Entire Market
Take everything in when visiting a local farmers market. Visit all of the vendor booths and explore all of the produce available. It makes for a more enjoyable visit.