By STEVE BROWN
The popularity of farmers' markets continues to grow.
The number of markets listed in the USDA's National Farmers Market Directory has increased by 9.6 percent over the past year, from 7,175 markets in 2011 to 7,864 in 2012.
In recognition of National Farmers Market Week Aug. 5-11, the American Farmland Trust has developed an online leader board tracking the votes for the top 20 farmers' markets in the America's Favorite Farmers Markets contest.
The goal of the contest is to highlight the role farmers' markets play in keeping family farmers on the land. The summer-long contest is a nationwide challenge to see which markets can rally the most votes from their customers.
At the end of the contest, four winning markets -- small (10 or fewer vendors) , mid-size (16-30 vendors), medium (31-55 vendors) and large (56 or more vendors) -- will receive the title of America's Favorite Farmers Market for 2012. The winning markets will be honored at local celebrations organized by the trust.
Of the 80 markets listed, only seven are in the West:
* Davis (Calif.) Farmers' Market -- large
* Ballard Farmers' Market (Seattle) -- large
* Healdsburg (Calif.) Certified Farmers' Market -- medium
* Oregon City Farmers' Market -- medium
* Arlington (Wash.) Farmers' Market -- mid-size
* Chewelah (Wash.) Farmers' Market -- mid-size
* Monterey Bay Certified Farmers' Market (Aptos, Calif.) -- small
Online voting -- at www.votemyfarmersmarket.org -- closes at midnight Sept. 3.
In concert with farmers' market contest, farmers can submit an essay to win the Farmers Market Inspiration Award. The $1,000 grand prize will be awarded to a farmer-producer with an essay illustrating why farmers' markets matter to their farm, family and community.
Essay information: http://farmersmarketcoalition.org/inspiration-award