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A winning proposition
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In communities across Kansas, farmers’ markets continue to offer homegrown and homemade products. Everything from freshly picked fruits and vegetables to mouthwatering baked goods, fresh eggs, beef, lamb, pork, colorful flower arrangements and assorted bedding plants.

Farmers’ markets are one of the quickest growing industries in communities across this country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported there are more than 6,100 such markets today. This is up 16-percent since 2009, meaning more than 850 have opened just this past year.

This access to fresh, high-quality food and the joy of connecting with a farmer is something that is resonating with more and more people. Key here is the opportunity for consumers to talk to the people producing the food.

When people have the chance to talk to someone one-on-one, they believe that because the food is grown closer to home, it’s probably safe. There’s also a sense of responsibility for the vendors who stand there and face the people who are buying their goods.

Vendors like markets because they can sell their home-produced products directly to consumers with no middleman. Farmers’ markets are unique because the producer is also the marketer.

In most phases of production agriculture the producer rarely has a chance to participate in this level of marketing. If a farmer grows wheat for example, he can sell it but has no control over price. In a farmers’ market he can set the price and negotiate with people.

Farmers’ markets are popular with a wide range of people. In university towns like Manhattan and Lawrence international students, accustomed to shopping in markets rather than grocery stores, frequent these establishments. Senior citizens are also regular customers.

Markets are also popular with people who have been transplanted from rural to urban areas. Folks who were raised in rural areas like that connection with the farm.

Without a doubt, farmers’ markets are a happening, a community event and a place to socialize. Many shoppers rise early in the morning so they can talk to people and sometimes more importantly secure the best produce. You remember, the early bird gets the worm.

Shopping in an outdoor venue is also just more fun. There’s nothing like an open-air venue to buy fresh, healthy food.

And after a recent trip I took a couple weeks ago, I listened as a younger shopper told me it’s serious, part of a socially responsible life.

"I’m buying from people in my own community," she informed me. "I’m supporting people who I live with."

Farmers’ markets are also family affairs. Kids are as much a part of scene as the vendors and customers. In case you hadn’t noticed, kids like to eat too and they know what they like.

And for the children who help their parents sell products, it’s a primary learning experience. Heck, I’ve seen many a second or third grader making change as Mom hands over the goods.

The friendly relationship between buyers and sellers, the festive atmosphere and the quality produce all make the farmers’ market a popular community event.

While I go to the market mainly for juicy, mouth-watering tomatoes and fresh, brown farm eggs, I sometimes find a real treat, something I haven’t bargained for or something my wife or I can’t replicate at home.

My favorite purchase at the downtown Manhattan farmers’ market are homemade tamales and salsa brought to our community by a vendor who lives in Topeka. Talk about wonderful.

You know, I’d go to our farmers’ market even if I didn’t buy something, but that’ll never happen because I love to eat too much.

I just like being there. It’s the best show in town.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.