Although the growing season got off to a slow start, farmers’ markets are filling up with locally produced bounty. If you haven’t seen tomatoes or baby potatoes at the market yet, you should in the next week or two. Farmers who have access to seasonal high tunnels were able to plant much earlier, especially considering the wet, cold weather we encountered this spring.

This growing season has been a challenge for all farmers regardless if they produce agronomic crops, livestock or fruits and vegetables. These challenges have been highlighted in many media outlets.

One of the easiest ways to support local farmers is to shop at nearby farmers’ markets, produce stands and other businesses that support the sale and use of local products. There are several benefits to shopping local.

One of the most important is that farmers retain a much larger percentage of the profit. According the Farmers Market Coalition, on average, farmers only retain about 17.4 cents for every dollar spent on food in the United States. In direct marketing situations, farmers can retain up to 90 cents for each dollar.

This season, there are 14 local farmers’ markets in Summit County and several more in neighboring counties. For a list of local farmers’ markets, visit https://www.summitfoodcoalition.org/farmers-markets.

The USDA estimates that local food sales from outlets such as produce stands, farmers’ markets, and farm-to-school programs rose to almost $12 billion dollars in 2014 and that is steadily climbing.

Farmers’ markets and local produce stands can be tremendous economic drivers. Several studies cited that when customers are shopping at local farmers' markets or produce stands, they are also shopping in other neighborhood businesses.

Two such analyses conducted in Oklahoma and Iowa indicated that for every dollar spent at farmers’ markets, an extra 58 cents to $1.38 will be spent at nearby businesses. (Find more information at purl.umn.edu/6785 for the Iowa report and http://bit.ly/2xQgpP0 for the Oklahoma study.)

Another positive aspect of many Ohio farmers’ markets has been the incorporation of the ability to accept the Ohio Direction card and the offering of incentives dollars. For example, at many markets across Ohio, for every dollar spent at participating vendors, buyers can get a dollar-for-dollar match up to a certain amount.

These types of incentive programs encourage those who are eligible for SNAP to purchase and use more fresh produce in their households. A win-win for consumers and farmers, these types of programs have the potential of contributing to long-term positive health outcomes. There are similar programs for WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and seniors to provide funds to encourage shopping at farmers’ markets.

The Summit Food Coalition is encouraging participating in local food purchasing by launching the Eat Local Challenge. Through the end of August, the Summit Food Coalition is challenging Summit County residents to switch $10 of their weekly food budget to local food. By signing up, you will receive recipes, food tips and information on farmers’ markets, makers and growers you can support.

"If we can get 150 people to sign up to spend $10 each week with local producers through the end of August, that contributes over $10,000 to our local economy, said Beth Knorr, executive director of the Summit Food Coalition. "Eating locally doesn't have to be all or nothing. Making small, tangible changes can lead to big impacts for our farmers and small businesses."

Sign up for the challenge at https://bluefootforms.wufoo.com/forms/r12tvk3317k8k51/ or the home page of the Summit Food Coalition.

More information on the benefits of farmers’ markets can be found at the Farmers Market Coalition website at https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/

Jacqueline Kowalski is the Summit County Agriculture and Natural Resources extension educator for the Ohio State University. For questions on local foods, food production or other garden-related questions, contact her at kowalski.124@osu.edu or 330-928-4769, ext. 2456. The Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Hotline is open. For answers to gardening questions, call 330-928-4769, select the Master Gardener Hotline prompt, Tuesday mornings 9 a.m. to noon.