Where can you find butter beans, cantaloupe and blueberries picked a day earlier and eggplant, cucumbers and okra picked fresh from the garden that morning? If you live near one of Mississippi’s 27 Certified Farmers Markets, the answer is close to home. The program, an initiative of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, promotes farmers markets across the state and helps consumers identify which markets feature Mississippi-grown products. “The certified program differentiates those farmers markets that have real Mississippi farmers selling true Mississippi produce from those that may consist of only wholesalers and resellers,” says Paige Manning, director of marketing and public relations for MDAC. Though not every farmer at a certified market must be from Mississippi, the market must have at least two Mississippi producers and at least 50 percent of what they sell they must have grown. This guideline allows for some diversity of growers in the market, while at the same time supporting local growers’ efforts. It’s also a way to encourage healthy eating. “These markets increase access to fresh produce, especially for those who have few local grocery stores,” says Manning. “And for those markets that participate in the WIC or Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs or accept SNAP benefits, it provides an easy way for individuals to use their benefits to get fresh, nutritious produce.” At the same time, the certified program offers opportunities for Mississippi farmers. Not only does the program provide support for the farmers’ efforts in terms of marketing and even educational workshops, it has also prompted additional support measures by other state agencies. For instance, the State Tax Commission offers specific tax exemptions for certain food items sold at Mississippi Certified Farmers Markets. Also, the Department of Health now allows some value-added vendors in these markets to make their products in their home. According to Donna West, division director in market development for MDAC, there are additional benefits. “These markets offer the farmers a profitable location to sell their goods and a place that attracts a large and often loyal customer base. We hear that consumers really appreciate knowing that they have fresh choices, but they also appreciate the opportunity to interact with the farmer and develop that relationship.” The benefits to certification are great, says West, and the process is easy. Market managers complete an application from the MDAC each year to ensure they meet the requirements for certification. While it’s not mandatory, nearly half of the state’s farmers markets have become certified in the four years since the program was established. Not only are those markets eligible for the tax exemptions and other benefits, they also are listed on the MDAC website as certified markets, are included in the Mississippi Market Bulletin which reaches nearly 47,000 subscribers and have access to a variety of marketing materials supplied by MDAC that position them as true Mississippi farmers markets. An 18,000-Square-Foot Market Farmers markets are also great opportunities to bring a community together, with many offering live music, tastings and other special events, says West. The Mississippi Farmers Market in Jackson is one of those lively venues. In an 18,000-square-foot building on High Street near the fairgrounds is a market that brings all the richness of Mississippi’s fruit and vegetable production to one location. It’s a producers-only market, complete with more than 50 vendors who sell Mississippi produce and specialty food items, as well as crafts, which also must be made by Mississippi craftsmen. There are cooking demonstrations, children’s activities, entertainment and seasonal events at the market, which is open on Saturdays year round and on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer. The Mississippi Farmers Market was voted Best Farmers Market in Mississippi by readers of Mississippi Magazine. According to Manning, the location brings in lots of shoppers. That makes farmers happy, which means more of them participate, which in turn increases the number of customers. The Mississippi Certified Farmers Market program and the Mississippi Farmers Market in Jackson are great partnerships for communities, farmers and consumers. “They provide supplemental income for farmers, healthy food for consumers and play a part in developing a strong local economy,” says West. That’s definitely a win for Mississippi. To learn more about the Mississippi Farmers Market, visit www.msfarmersmarket.com or on Facebook at Mississippi Farmers Market.