By Cassidy Hobbs Hall
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
Johnston County Cooperative Extension
August 1st through August 7th has been proclaimed National Farmers Market Week, and while this effort serves to highlight the importance of farmers markets, you may be curious why these markets matter when you could visit the grocery store to pick needed items.
Johnston County has a thriving agricultural economy. These hidden gems are present in nearly all corners of Johnston County, including our more urbanized pockets such as McGee’s, Clayton, and Archer Lodge. We’re home to diverse sectors of agriculture including plant and nursery centers, both retail and wholesale, as well as fruits, vegetables, tobacco, livestock, soybeans, wheat, and corn.
Whether you are visiting the Farmers Markets in Raleigh, Clayton, or directly from the farm in your neighborhood, purchasing local foods are a trend that provide significant economic impacts. Studies estimate that for every dollar spent on local products, up to $.90 worth of additional economic activity takes place. Local farmers, whether large or small scale, tend to hire local employees and purchase their input from local sources, both of which contribute to job creation and stimulate the economy. The impacts do not stop there. Livestock growers have opportunities to utilize local processors to provide their customers with fully local products. When our county’s economy thrives, our communities thrive. According to the latest USDA Census data, Johnston County alone provides 183,281 acres of farmland distributed across more than 1,000 farms. Our greenhouse, sod, floriculture, and nursery sector provided over $12 million in value in 2017. That same year, Johnston County farms sold over $2.2 million in direct-to consumer products, which was up 162% from 2012. This number is likely even higher today due to increasing demand and agritourism in Johnston County.
In addition to the economic impacts provided by Johnston County agriculture, there are certainly health impacts as well. Farmland ensures open space and beautiful views, both of which are becoming more and more recognized for contributing to better mental health. Produce growers ensure communities have fresh fruits & vegetables available, and many of these markets have seasons of U-pick and educational opportunities for all ages to get their hands in the soil. Some markets also accept SNAP and WIC benefits to help seniors, children, and limited resource families purchase fruits and vegetables which are critical to nutrition and overall wellness. Lastly, you can purchase your own plants or seeds from local nurseries to grow your own food and get your kids excited about trying new fruits & vegetables.
For all of the foodies out there, several of our farms sell to local restaurants and allow people an opportunity to purchase produce in bulk. Buying in bulk to freeze or home-can helps ensure delicious food year round. Another foodie trend is to purchase produce boxes. The local, “real person” version of this service is called a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box. Some farms offer for consumers to sign up from December through April for a single pre-pay fee in exchange for weekly or bi-weekly produce boxes. This service is accompanied by the ability to speak to the farmer growing your food, ask questions, and sometimes you may receive a little extra to prevent food from going to waste. This service also helps farmers know how much to plant for the season- again, reducing food waste. If you can’t quite commit to pre- paying for a whole season, you can always visit the farm stand and pick out your own produce, and some farms allow you to sign up at any time during the season.
With all of these great reasons to celebrate National Farmers Market Week, be sure to plan ahead. Find a farm near you by downloading the free NC Farms App or visit www.jocogrows.org. You can also like JoCo Grows on Facebook for videos and recipes. Once you’ve found a farm to visit, be sure to check out their website or Facebook page to see what foods are available as well as their seasonal hours. This will help you to plan your meals in advance so you can choose recipes to fit your family’s schedule & cravings!
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