YORK (AP) – Maine Agriculture Commissioner Robert Spear says farmers markets are enjoying a resurgence in the state that can help ensure that farmers stay in business.

“The best way to avoid ‘sprawl’ is to make sure we support our farmers,” Spear said, noting that 11 new markets opened this year, raising the state’s total to 65.

Among the newest is The Gateway Farmers Market, which opened Saturday at the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce.

By patronizing such markets, consumers can help farmers meet expenses and withstand growing pressures to sell off land for housing lots, Spear said. The more that farmers can sell at retail prices, the less they will lose by selling at lower, wholesale prices to larger distributors, he noted.

Spear said people’s increasing appreciation of the health benefits of homegrown goods is also contributing to the revival of farmers markets.

Farmers markets nowadays feature everything from fruits and vegetables, to plants, even wool, chickens and fresh meats.

Spear said there’s a “mystique” attached to shopping outside, and Maine’s farmers are banking on that as they expand their outdoor produce markets.

“One of our jobs is to train consumers, to show them that all produce isn’t the same,” said Tom Roberts of Snakeroot Organic Farm in Pittsfield, representing the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets. “If you’re buying it at a farmers market, it was grown in Maine – maybe that morning.”

Among the customers at the local market Saturday was Lynne Gass of Sanford, who was buying chocolate bread made by a local bread company that goes by the name “When Pigs Fly.”

Gass said she likes farmers markets because they offer “fresh, homegrown food, and there’s no middleman, so the farmers get the direct benefit.”

The new market was conceived by business leaders who discussed ways to offer home-grown products at a visible location, said Kathy Goodwin, director of the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce. The town had a farmers market a few years ago that went belly-up due to a poor, less-visible location.

AP-ES-05-25-03 1315EDT

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