Farmers markets are one of the most visible cornerstones of farm-direct marketing today. Throughout the United States, the total number of farmers markets has increased dramatically. The USDA’s directory now includes 8,144 farmers markets, growing 3.6% between 2012 and 2013 alone (USDA-AMS 2013). Washington State has a rich variety of farmers markets, from the world-famous Pike Place Market founded in 1907 to new markets opening each year. As with national trends, our historical research found that the number of markets in Washington State has grown significantly, quintupling in the last two decades (Figure 1).
Despite the consistent growth of direct sales nationally and in Washington State, very little has been documented about the extent or characteristics of direct marketing as a long-term strategy for farm viability. And while there is a growing literature emphasizing the role of farmers markets in community and local food systems along with a proliferation of “how to” guides, very little data is available about farmers markets’ performance and organizational characteristics from a manager’s perspective. The purpose of our research, therefore, is to address this need by documenting the current capacity of Washington State farmers markets to generate income for farmers, improve the environment, and provide assets to communities; as well as to assess their long-term sustainability by surveying market managers about their market organizations.