This week may be your first opportunity to snatch up a bushel of Arkansas grown peaches. Peaches are grown throughout the state with the highest concentrations of peach farms in Pope County and Johnson County.

But before you head out to the supermarket, we want to encourage you to check out what your local farmers’ market may have to offer. Homegrown peaches are just the beginning.

Less than 10 years ago, there were just over 30 farmers’ markets across the state. Today, we boast over 85 and they can be found in all regions.

Shopping at farmers’ markets is a unique experience that not only benefits you with an opportunity to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, but it benefits your friends and neighbors by keeping your dollar in your community.

It also is an enormous benefit to our local farmers. Agriculture accounts for $16 billion of value added to our economy. It also accounts for over 10 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP). While our state has been known for its successful rice crop and poultry production, our farmers are also in the top 15 states for producers of tomatoes, blueberries, grapes, and watermelons. You can find all of this produce fresh from the farm at your local farmers’ market.

Farmers’ markets can offer farmers increased profits by selling directly to consumers rather than to wholesalers or large grocery firms. The markets require less transport, less handling, and less refrigeration. At the market, farmers retain the full premium for their produce, instead of a processor’s whole price.

Because of the economic benefit to our agriculture industry, the Arkansas legislature has worked to encourage farmers’ markets across the state. Act 72 of 2010 allows certain types of food items such as homemade jellies and bakery products to be sold at farmers’ markets as well. However, there are several guidelines so if you are a vendor please check with the Department of Health before selling the merchandise.

And many of you may have heard in this recent session, we allowed the sale of raw or unpasteurized milk. But please remember the law specifically states that a farmer can only sell the milk from his or her place of business. Unpasteurized milk is not to be sold at farmers’ markets.

We encourage you to visit your local farmers’ market this summer. Meet your local farmers, learn about foods grown in your area and catch up with friends and neighbors while stocking up with local goods. This strengthens your community and our entire state.