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Farmers markets get a boost thanks to NOFA-Vt.

RICHMOND - There's one thing unique about Vermont - that's its growing number of farmers markets. Once popular in rural states, farmers markets languished in the closing decades of the 20th century. Competition from supermarkets may have been partially to blame, but now a pleasant reversal is under way. As more Vermonters become concerned about the quality of their food, and as more join the "buy local" movement, farmers markets satisfy these emerging consumer trends on several levels.

In the case of the Richmond-based, non-profit Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, helping to cultivate the local farmers market movement makes common sense. Get local growers gather together to sell their organic produce and more and it's a win-win situation for everyone involved - sellers and buyers.

So, supporting farmers markets through technical assistance has long been a priority of NOFA Vermont.

Now the agricultural association can put its money where its mouth is - literally.

According to NOFA Vermont's Jean Hamilton, the organization's farmers market advisor, thanks to the generosity of an undisclosed private foundation, NOFA Vermont has a funding pool of $100,000 to aid local farmers markets all across the Green Mountain State.

Hamilton said the 2009 Vermont farmers Market Mini-Grants will provide farmers market operators with supporting grants of up to $5,000 to support expansion projects at existing markets or to help communities create new farmers markets.

Eligible projects for farmers markets include, but are not limited to, developing promotional materials, building physical infrastructure to enhance the marketplace, strengthening a market's governing body, conducting economic impact assessments, and developing accessibility to the market for under served customer bases, according to NOFA-Vermont's Web site.

"We're pleased to be able to help markets finance projects that will really help them be successful in the long run," said Hamilton. "We expect to see farmers markets submitting proposals for all kinds of projects, from market promotion to site improvements to special events. We're also expecting to see this provide the seed capital to communities looking to start up new markets in their communities, helping to pay for site rental, logo development, promotion, and staff time."

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