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Delaware farmer markets continue to break records

Katie Tabeling
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Farmer Markets serve as way for farmers and other entrepreneurs to sell directly to consumers, and in Delaware, sales have continued to break records since 2021. | PHOTO COURTSESY OF DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE.

HARRINGTON — Delaware farmer markets had another record-setting year, with $4.2 million earned by farmers and entrepreneurs in 2023.

With 17 markets throughout the First State, last year marks the first time Delaware farmer markets broke through the $4 million sales threshold. In the past three years, farmers markets have roared back after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered them. In 2021, market sales hovered around $3.2 million and last year brought in $3.7 million.

For Delaware Farm Bureau Executive Director Don Clifton, the news signals growing momentum across the First State for buying local.

Combined sales increasing over 11% is no fluke,” Clifton told the Delaware Business Times. “The commitment by the producers, organizers, and managers is critical and so is the commitment by the buying public. Our farmers who produce vegetables and other items for these markets need community support and clearly that support is building.”

Delaware farmers’ markets are run locally by municipalities, business groups, farmers, or market associations, with the state offering support with advertisements.

Fresh produce comprised 52% of total sales. The rest of sales came from products such as meats, cheeses, jellies, breads, salsa, eggs or honey.

For some local farmers — especially those just starting out — these markets account for a large portion of their annual income. In 2020, the U.S Department of Agriculture found that farms sold $1.4 billion worth of food to farmers markets and restaurants and grocery stores. That accounts for 13% of total income earned.

Locally, Dittmar Family Farms reported that farmers markets accounted for roughly half their sales in the past. When the state closed farmer markets in 2020 due to concerns about spreading the COVID-19 pandemic, total sales dropped to $1.9 million. 

“The success of a farmers market relies on three key points: the farmers who grow various products to bring to market each week, an interactive market manager who engages their community to support our family farms, and consumers who want to purchase the freshest, locally grown food to feed their families,” Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse said in a statement. 

“We are fortunate to have fantastic farmers markets throughout the state that serve as prime examples of how a community supports Delaware’s agriculture industry,” the state agriculture secretary added.

In addition to direct-to-consumer sales, farmers markets also offer opportunities for customers to learn more about their farm entrepreneur. A past study from the American Farm Bureau found that 72% consumers know nothing or very little about farming or ranching.

“Customers are responding to the opportunity to meet the growers directly and learn more about how their food is produced on family farms,” Clifton added. “It’s really a win-win for everyone.”

Delaware’s 2024 market season will begin in May, with most markets open by the end of June. A current list of the 2023 markets is online at Delaware Grown, and will be updated in late April.

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