Iowa—The Farmers Market State?

Increasing attention is being paid to local food, as evidenced by the proliferation of farmers markets. Ostensibly where producers come together to sell their meats, cheeses, produce, etc., farmers markets connect us to the bounty surrounding us, acting as a respite from the sterile environments of a supermarket or megastore. Many of us—perhaps even MOST of us—have at least weekly access to a market where we can buy local goods. For me, it’s party of my weekly routine. I take my reusable bags and fill them with beets and salad greens from Christopher Farms, pork and Oyster mushrooms from Eli Creek Farms, honey from Dale Scheidler, grassfed beef from To Tend and To Keep Farm, apples from Richie Stegmaier, lamb from Russell Sheep Farm and so on. Farmers markets are certainly landmarks on the terrain of the Flyover States.


So, Who Has the Most Markets?

According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), there were over 8000 farmers markets across the country in 2013, a 5-year increase of nearly 40%.1 The 10 states with the most markets are:

  • 1. California (759 markets)
  • 2. New York (637)
  • 3. Illinois (336)
  • 4. Michigan (331)
  • 5. Ohio (300)
  • 6. Pennsylvania (290)
  • 7. Massachusetts (289)
  • 8. Wisconsin (286)
  • 9. Missouri (246)
  • 9. Virginia (tied with Missouri) (246)
  • 10. Iowa (229)
  • 10. North Carolina (tied with Iowa) (229)


Well, if you’re a geographer, you’ll recognize that there is another factor at play here—the number of people living in these states. California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina are also among the United States’s 10 most populated states. In essence, we are looking at a list of the most populated states. So we really can’t compare these states directly. Well, what do we do now?

In Which We Normalize Our Data

To enable use to compare our states, we need to look at the number of farmers markets relative to population, which we do by normalizing our numbers. Normalize , in our case, means that we are going to take our raw numbers (count of farmers markets and the absolute populations of the states) and generate values for the number of farmers markets per population. Here’s how we do it:
Number of farmers markets in a state/Population of state
This will give us the number of farmers markets per capita (or per person). However, that’s going to yield a small number. So, we will multiply that value by 100,000, which tells us the number of farmers markets per 100,000 people.

So, NOW Who Has the Most Markets?

Surprise, surprise—looks like Iowa is the clear winner! Yes, the Hawkeye State has an astonishing 7.41 farmers markets per 100,000 people! If we look at the top farmers market states on a per population basis, the list looks quite different!


  • 1. Iowa (7.41 markets per 100,000 people)
  • 2. Wisconsin (4.98)
  • 3. Massachusetts (4.32)
  • 4. Missouri (4.07)
  • 5. Michigan (3.35)
  • 6. New York (3.24)
  • 7. Virginia (2.98)
  • 8. Illinois (2.61)
  • 9. Ohio (2.59)
  • 10. North Carolina (2.36)
  • 11. Pennsylvania (2.27)
  • 12. California (1.98)

Wow! California actually drops to the bottom of the list (remember, though, that I’ve only examined the states with the most farmers markets). But still—an truly incredible showing! In another post, I’ll explain why I’m not all that surprised that Iowa is at the top. But it certainly is surprising to me the magnitude of this! And the Flyover States fare quite well here–4 out of the top 5 (Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Michigan)!

1Farmers market data sourced from here. Population data are from the US Census Bureau.


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