Rewards for those who shop at local Virginia farmers’ markets

Photo: Croc's Virginia Beach

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), is encouraging all Virginians to add a “springtime boost” to their local economy by patronizing a local farmers’ market.

Virginia residents now have the opportunity to buy fresh, locally-grown produce at seasonal farmers’ markets, many of which opened around the first of May. Virginia also boasts many year-round markets, and for them, it’s always market season.

This year, VDACS is offering a punch card for consumers who spend at least $10 per visit at a Virginia farmers’ market.

The program is in partnership with the Virginia Food System Councils $10 a week pledge campaign to grow the local economy.

Research by Virginia Cooperative Extension has shown that if each household in Virginia spent just $10 a week on locally grown agricultural products, consumers would invest an additional $1.65 billion back into the local economy each year.

The punch cards will be available at the markets listed on VirginiaGrown.com.

When consumers collect 14 punches and return the card to the market manager, they have a chance to win a Virginia Grown/Virginia’s Finest gift basket worth $250. The basket will contain items such as fresh fruits and vegetables, beverages and specialty products that include peanuts, chocolates, crackers and bread, honey, cookies, cheese or cheese spreads, herbs, perhaps even cut flowers or plants. Everything in it will be grown, raised or produced in Virginia.

Shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables instills healthy eating habits for adults and children, and consumers often will find items at a farmers’ market not available in traditional grocery stores. These include exotic and vintage varieties of tomatoes or apples, baby vegetables, unique gourds and pumpkins, artisanal cheeses, eggs of many colors, plants acclimated to a specific micro-climate and local honey, often prized for its ability to prevent allergies.

Virginia is home to nearly 230 farmers’ markets and ranks ninth among all states for seasonal markets. In 2012, Virginia ranked tenth for winter markets. No matter their months of operation, all of them provide consumers access to locally-grown food and interaction with the people who grow it. Consumers can search for farmers’ markets at VirginiaGrown.com by county or zip code, and they can search for specific products such as blueberries or sweet corn.

Other good news for consumers: more and more markets are now beginning to accept credit cards or Electronic Benefit Transfer/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (EBT/SNAP) cards as payment for purchases. The growth of SNAP benefit redemption at farmers’ markets allows greater access to healthy, fresh food choices for citizens of the Commonwealth who participate in SNAP.

Consumers may pick up a punch card at their local farmers’ market. Pledge information and contest rules are available on VirginiaGrown.com.

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