What’s at the Farmers Market?

The USDA maintains a list of U.S. farmers markets including food and products that are available at each market. We’re always wondering which items are most popular at the market so we thought we’d take a look at the data. (Jump to the graph if you want to read about the data later.)

First, we need to take a look at the categories the USDA presents in their questionnaire when someone adds or updates a farmers market entry. The first item is the key in the list we downloaded matched up (by us making an educated guess) with the description in the questionnaire.

  • Bakedgoods – Baked goods: breads, pies, etc.
  • Beans – Dry beans
  • Cheese – Dairy products: milk, cheese, etc.
  • Coffee – Coffee and/or tea
  • Crafts – Crafts and/or woodworking items
  • Eggs – Eggs
  • Flowers – Cut flowers
  • Fruits – Fresh fruits
  • Grains – Grains and/or flour
  • Herbs – Fresh and/or dried herbs
  • Honey – Honey
  • Jams – Canned or preserved fruits/ vegetables: jams, jellies, preserves, salsas, pickles, dried fruit, etc.
  • Juices – Juices and/or non-alcoholic ciders
  • Maple – Maple syrup and/or maple products
  • Meat – Red and other non-poultry meat and products
  • Mushrooms – Mushrooms
  • Nuts – Nuts
  • Organic – Separate question (more below)
  • PetFood – Pet food
  • Plants – Bedding plants
  • Poultry – Poultry/fowl meat and products
  • Prepared – Prepared foods (for immediate consumption)
  • Seafood – Fish and/or seafood
  • Soap – Soap and/or body care products
  • Tofu – Tofu and/or non-animal protein
  • Trees (Nursery?) – Nursery stock (trees, shrubs)
  • Vegetables – Fresh vegetables
  • WildHarvested – Wild harvested forest products: mushrooms, medicinal herbs, edible fruits and nuts, etc.
  • Wine – Wine, spirits, beer, hard cider

There were a few things that we noticed between the exported data and the questionnaire:

  1. Some categories cross each other such as Mushrooms, WildHarvested (Wild harvested forest products: mushrooms, medicinal herbs, edible fruits and nuts, etc.), Herbs, and Nuts.
  2. Organic is listed as a separate question on a separate page reading “Will any of the producers/vendors at this market location in 2015 be USDA-­certified organic producers?” Organic must have been added at a later date because 5,216 of the 8,429 markets listed had no answer. The percentage in the graph is based on the 3,213 answers that existed.
  3. In the export, there are separate entries for Nursery and Trees but only a single item exists on the current questionnaire: “Nursery stock (trees, shrubs)”.
  4. There is an option for “Other, please specify” on the questionnaire that provides a text box but we’re not sure what happens with that information.
  5. Some of these markets haven’t been updated in years. Over 1,800 market entries are listed as last updated in 2009.

Percentage of 8,429 farmers markets that said they had these items at their market.
Click on the graph for a larger version

What's at the market?

Honestly, we were hoping for some interesting insights when we started looking at this data but we mostly came up with additional questions:

  • Are there really that many certified organic vendors at farmers markets? If so, that’s a great trend but we’ve heard of many vendors holding off due to the expense of certification.
  • Do only 58% of the markets out there have fresh vegetables? We’re pretty sure every market we’ve been to has vegetables. Isn’t that how farmers markets started?
  • Pet food at 56%? Does that mean pets can eat the food or it’s specifically made for pets?
  • Tofu and/or non-animal protein? Does that mean beans and other vegetable proteins? We’ve only seen tofu and seitan at a few markets.

Our anecdotal guess, from visiting farmers markets across the country, is that Baked Goods and below (minus Tofu) seem pretty accurate. The top items seem a bit off but maybe we haven’t been to a good enough sampling of markets?

One thing is for sure. Figuring out exactly what’s available at over 8,000 farmers markets is difficult.

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