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American Farmland Trust continues tradition in 2020, with updates.
Story and photos by Anne Quinn Corr
One of summer’s great joys is celebrating the earth’s bounty by going to a farmers’ market. Purchasing seasonal produce directly from the hand that planted and tended that asparagus spear, strawberry, or tomato offers a visceral connection to the land.
The farmers’ market season of 2020 is going to look different than it has in the past. Instead of meandering aisles to see, sniff, and grab fresh-picked produce—a joyful scene reminiscent of a Bruegler painting of a bustling marketplace—the new order will be, well, more orderly. Sedate. Masked. But it will go on and so will the annual American Farmland Trust’s Farmers Market Celebration contest, which will run from June 22 through September 20.
“American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work,” says Greg Plotkin, digital communications manager for American Farmland Trust (AFT). The organization aims to protect farmlands from ever-expanding housing development. “AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our ‘no farms, no food’ message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families.”
One of the organization’s most visible outreach efforts is its Farmers Market Celebration, an annual competition for America’s best farmers’ market. Winners are selected by popular vote in five regions: the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Pacific, and Southwest. There is also an overall People’s Choice winner, which is awarded to the market with the highest total number of votes.
In 2019, the Farmers Market Competition winners were:
“Our Celebration is a way for farmers’ markets to connect with their customers in a fun way outside of the physical markets themselves,” says Plotkin, who leads the project. “It provides access to important resources for markets to be successful. It allows market shoppers to express their appreciation and support for market operators and farmers.”
Voting categories have changed over the years that Celebration has been held. “We’ve landed on keeping it regional, so we have the opportunity to highlight different markets across the country making a difference,” says Plotkin. “The silver lining this year is that more people are interested in supporting local foods. We plan to focus on recognizing farmers’ markets as essential in light of the coronavirus pandemic. A redesigned website will streamline voting and provide additional resources to market managers. Cash prizes will go to the top three markets.” The only criteria for farmers’ markets to participate in the celebration is to be listed in the USDA National Farmers Market Registry. Votes are limited to one per email address.
The 2020 contest will take into account social distancing restrictions and safety issues that currently regulate all farmers’ markets. To know what’s happening at a market near you, “It’s best to go directly to a farmers’ market’s website for the update on that market’s protocol,” says Plotkin, who has been busy posting webinars featuring question and answer sessions between AFT interviewers and key players in the nation’s food systems.
Coast-to-coast road trips with stops at farmers’ markets along the way may be curtailed this summer, but the markets will carry on and still be there once it is safe to travel freely again. Farmers know how to roll with it; they may be the most adaptable professionals since they are used to dealing with changes like weather and soil variations each year. These days at markets, farmers wear masks and follow new guidelines with grace and acuity. Online ordering systems and social distance shopping are just factors for farmers to deal with on market day; their main focus and primary mission continues to be coaxing the food from the soil.
The popularity of local farmers’ markets is predicted to rise this summer as more people seek to shorten their food supply chain as part of overall efforts to lessen risks of Covid-19. According to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, there are currently 8,800 farmers’ markets registered in the United States. To find a farmers’ market in any specific area, check out the National Farmers Market Directory; simply enter a zip code to see a list of markets within 5 to 200 miles. Websites are listed for individual markets, when available. Many state extension services have posted recommendations for shopping at farmers’ markets, along with tips of how to care of purchases, recipes for home-cooked meals using local produce, and, anticipating summer’s potential bounty, home food preservation methods.
Summer travel this year may be more local and a trip to the farmers’ market, considered essential, may lack the conviviality of previous years. You probably won’t hear musicians playing or be able to watch cooking demos this summer, but the farmers’ markets will continue to supply food and help preserve a true sense of community. While we won’t be able to shake hands or touch produce, we can look into each other’s eyes and connect. And we can vote for our favorite farmers’ market, which may be the one closest to home.
As American Farmland Trust asserts: No Farms. No Food. No Future.
Plan A Trip
For more information about the status of local farmers’ markets in any community, visit the Farmers Market Coalition for current details.
State extension services also provide guidance for shopping at farmers’ markets, such as this one from Penn State Extension. Check your local state, county, and/or city websites for current guidelines specific to your community.
Anne Quinn Corr, author of Seasons of Central Pennsylvania, is a food and travel journalist currently living in State College, Pennsylvania. She had been enjoying a gap year of travel, until it was cut short. There’s no place like home!…especially in Central Pennsylvania, with its seven local farmers markets.