Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced a 9.6 percent increase in National Farmers Market Directory listings as the kickoff to National Farmer's Market Week. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's directory, a database published online at farmersmarkets.usda.gov, identifies 7,864 farmers markets operating throughout the United States. The information collected in the directory is self-reported data provided voluntarily by farmers market managers through an annual outreach effort. Last year, USDA's directory listed 7,175 markets.

"Farmers markets are a critical ingredient to our nation's food system," said Merrigan. "These outlets provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also to the communities looking for fresh, healthy foods. The directory is an online tool that helps connect farmers and consumers, communities and businesses around the country."

The top states, in terms of the number of markets reported in the directory, include California (827 markets), New York (647 markets), Massachusetts (313 markets), Michigan (311 markets), Wisconsin (298 markets), Illinois (292 markets), Ohio (264 markets), Pennsylvania (254 markets), Virginia and Iowa (tied with 227 markets) and North Carolina (202 markets). Together they account for nearly half (49 percent) of the farmers markets listed in the 2012 directory.

Geographic regions like the mid-Atlantic (Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia), the Northeast (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont), and the Southeast (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee) saw large increases in their listings, reporting, 15.8, 14.4 and 13.1 percent more markets, respectively.

USDA has taken several steps to help small and mid-sized farmers as part of the department's commitment to support local and regional food systems, and increase consumer access to fresh, healthy food in communities across the country. For example,

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), is outfitting more farmers markets with the ability to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), announcing $4 million dollars in available funding to equip farmers' markets with wireless point-of-sale equipment. Currently, over 2,500 farmers markets are using Electronic Benefit Transfer technology.

USDA recently released the 2.0 version of its KYF Compass, a digital guide to USDA resources related to local and regional food systems. The updated version includes new data sets to help consumers locate local food resources, such as farmers markets, and plot them on an interactive map.