Farmers Markets in Montana have become more than just quaint weekend gatherings; they are a growing economic force in the state and across the U.S., according to a new study from the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

We spoke to Mara Henn, Community Food Systems Specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology headquartered in Butte who described the scope of the UM study and the effects of farmers markets across the state.

“This study was completed by the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research,” began Henn.  “We really wanted to understand the economic impact and importance of farmers markets in Montana and really get a baseline understanding of how many jobs are created by farmers markets and what kind of revenue is generated.”

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Henn said the study confirmed her belief in the economic power of local farmers markets in Montana.

“What we found was that farmers markets in 2021 (in Montana) generated $10.4 million in new spending, and received $17.3 million in revenue,” she said. “So that's really showing that farmers markets are a vital component of the state's economy, especially for a state as large as Montana. We may have a small population, but that's a big chunk of money.”

Henn said it’s not just about the money, but how many Montanans make their living through local farmers markets.

“It was really exciting to see that farmers markets provide more than 250 full-time jobs, and almost 5,000 individuals work to produce the goods and services offered each week,” she said. “So those 5,000 individuals are both paid and unpaid labor, so that might mean families who are working together to get their goods and services to market each week, and there are people who are being paid part time as well.”

Henn said food safety and security are important at outdoor farmers markets, and organizers take extra steps to guarantee that foods are fresh and consumers can enjoy them safely.

“A lot of producers go through GAP certification, which stands for ‘good agricultural practices’,” she said. “Farmers markets also have to work really closely with their county officials and the local sanitarians and the state sanitarian to make sure that they're following all of the guidelines. In fact, it's almost impossible to have a farmers market without having some kind of licensure.”

Henn said this week has been declared National Farmers Markets Week, and since Saturday is typically the most popular day for the markets, she encourages all Montanans to visit their local farmers market and support their local agricultural economy.

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