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Down on the Farm

Farmers markets spring up to meet growing demand

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The growth of farmers markets over the last two decades is a compelling sign that a significant percentage of eaters across the country are shifting their allegiance from corporate to community based food systems. In 1994, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture began tracking the trend, the agency found 1,755 farmers markets scattered across the country. By mid-2011, that number had skyrocketed to 7,175.

Idaho's enthusiasm for them is strong, too, and suggests that super-fresh, locally grown, seasonal meats, fruits and vegetables is no longer--if it ever was--the exclusive fetish of coastal urbanites and progressive foodies.

"The number of farmers markets in Idaho has nearly tripled in 10 years," said Lacy Menasco with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. "In 2002 we had 20, and 58 in 2011."

Those new markets have popped up not only in Boise, Sun Valley and Coeur d'Alene but also in Marsing, Arco, Montpelier and Jerome.

To further shake the elitist stereotype, more Idaho markets each year are setting up Electronic Benefits Transfer systems so low-income customers can shop their local farmers markets. Around the state, markets are also offering cooking classes and education programs to help those with little experience cooking fresh, unprocessed food learn their way around a ripe, but fragile peach, a mystifying pile of fava beans or a richly marbled, grass-fed pork shoulder.

To further improve and expand the Idaho farmers market scene, market managers have recently formed a statewide Idaho Farmers Market Association. Lisa Duplessie, an association board member and assistant director of the Capital City Public Market, said the volunteer group will help give markets across the state a stronger political voice, promote important food-related programs and nurture new Idaho markets as they continue to multiply.

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