With winter on its way, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that its National Farmers Market Directory lists 898 winter farmers markets across the country, accounting for more than 14 percent of the nation's 6,132 operating farmers markets and extending opportunities for consumers to access locally grown food.

"Fresh, local, and healthful food isn't just a good weather offering," said David Shipman, Acting Administrator of USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. "Clearly in many places, winter markets are hot despite the cold weather. Even in states where the traditional growing season is short, the market season is long. This allows more small and local farmers to continue bringing in income for their families and their businesses, while also providing great, nutritious food to communities year round."

Farmers markets are considered winter farmers markets if they operate between November and March. The top 11 states for these markets are: New York (153), California (140), North Carolina (53), Florida (45), Pennsylvania (42), Ohio (34), Massachusetts (32), Kentucky (30), New Jersey (24), Connecticut (20), and Michigan (20).

The last time USDA released a count of winter farmers markets was in 2009 as part of the agency's National Farmers Market Manager Survey. Since then, winter markets have grown 17 percent. Results from that same survey indicate that farmers markets operating more than seven months per year have higher monthly sales than their strictly seasonal counterparts.

In August 2010 USDA's National Farmers Market Directory listed 6,132 operating farmers markets overall, a 16 percent rise from 2009. The National Farmers Market Directory has been collecting self-reported information about farmers markets since 1994.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Wednesday between Dec. 1 and March 30, USDA sponsors a Winter Farmers Market at its headquarters in Washington, DC. The market features local products such as seasonal produce, honey, herbs and baked goods. It is open to the public and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other federal nutrition benefit programs are accepted.