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Growers cheery as winter farmers' markets swell By LISA RATHKE
Associated Press Writer

MONTPELIER, Vt.  The snow might be piling up in Vermont, but farmers are
still selling their produce. This winter, they have more venues.

The number of farmers' markets open year-round has grown from six last year
to at least 11 this winter, thanks to rising demand, according to the
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.

From Brattleboro to Grand Isle, farmers are extending their seasons by
moving indoors  to gymnasiums and churches  for weekly or monthly markets.

"It's really exciting for everyone involved, from the consumers to the
farmers to the market organizers, to have this community event that is
continuous throughout the year," said Jean Hamilton, farm share coordinator
for the association.

Winter or not, farmers' markets are getting more popular. The number of
farmers' markets nationally has grown nearly 7 percent from 2006, to 4,685
this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"It benefits both the consumer and the producer," said Joan Shaffer, a USDA
spokeswoman for farmers' markets.

Consumers like to meet the producers and get fresh food and farmers get
another outlet for their products, she said.

Also, consumers are concerned about their food and want fresh produce grown
locally and farmers are planning ahead, planting crops such as potatoes,
turnips and squash that can be stored and sold in winter, Hamilton said.

The number of winter markets where customers pre-buy food from a farm for
the season has grown from 6 in 2006 to 22 this winter.

At the Montpelier farmers' market on a recent Saturday, shoppers walked the
three rows of vendors in the Vermont College gymnasium, while a guitarist
played on the stage. They chatted with farmers as they picked out potatoes,
carrots and greens; beef, cheese and eggs.

They sampled sheep and cow's milk cheeses, inspected jams, honey and yarn,
and lunched on samosas  pastries filled with spiced vegetables or meat.

"It's excellent," Annie McCleary, 61, of Woodbury, said of the twice-monthly
market.

"This is about re-localizing our food, our economy, our community, getting
what we need to support true resiliency in our communities. I don't miss one
if I can help it."

Carrie Cook, 34, of Montpelier, is another regular. "It's great to be able
to get local produce so often in the winter," she said.

It's social, too.

In the small Lake Champlain community of Grand Isle, more than 150 people
showed up at two winter markets held this year in a church. "People can come
out and have coffee and visit with one another," said Christine Bourque, of
Blue Heron Farm.

It's also a long trip  30 to 40 minutes  to big grocery stores in
Burlington and St. Albans, she said.

"To be able to have all the farmers, all artisans and the bakers and
prepared food people all in one place is such a great thing and people were
stocking up the last time," she said.

___

On the Net:

Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont: http://www.nofavt.org

___

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP)  For the second straight year, Mississippi's top row
crop was soybeans.

With the vegetable's increased acreage and price, experts are predicting the
trend will continue in 2009 despite the escalating threat of voracious
eating insects.

Farmers planted 2.1 million acres of soybeans, 35 percent more than 2007,
and made an estimated $604 million off the crop, a 15-percent increase from
last year.

"The increase was primarily due to excellent prices for soybean," said Trey
Koger, with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. "The other
commodity crops had lower prices and high costs for inputs, especially for
cotton and rice."

Soybean prices averaged $11.25 a bushel in 2008. The 2007 average price per
bushel was $8.

Soybeans have become more popular because the crop performs well in
Mississippi and is comparatively inexpensive to produce.

-- 
Dr. Teri Hamlin
North Region Agriculture Education
Georgia Department of Education
204C Four Towers University of Georgia
Athens, Ga 30602
706-542-3679 / 706-540-0032
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