WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of farmers markets listed by the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) is up 9.6 percent from last year to 7,864, with almost half in 10 states, the department said on Friday.
Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said growth of the markets, which allow local growers to sell produce directly to consumers, reflected in part a desire for Americans to reconnect with farmers.
"Close to 10 percent is amazing growth," she said in a conference call.
The severe drought underscored the need for consumers to support local growers, Merrigan said.
California had the largest number of farmers markets in the directory at 827, trailed by New York at 647 and Massachusetts with 313. North Carolina closed out the top 10 at 202.
The fastest-growing region was the mid-Atlantic states, with a 15.8 percent increase in the last year. The USDA registry includes urban and rural markets.
Farmers get only about 14 cents of every retail dollar spent on food and the markets boost that percentage, Merrigan said.
About 2,500 markets now accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly food stamps, using Electronic Benefit Transfer. The percentage should rise to about two-thirds by the end of 2012, she said.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by David Gregorio)