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      People choosing fresh local produce over grocery stores

      COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Farmers' markets are at a high point in popularity throughout the nation, according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Columbia is no exception, with dozens of farmers' markets in the area bringing a variety of options for fresh local foods and crafts.

      The study of data collected by the USDA shows farmers' markets populated the country 17 percent more in 2011 than they did the previous year.

      The surge in business at All-Local Farmers' Market on Whaley Street reflects the national trend. Its founder Emile DeFelice says he started six years ago with 12 markets per year. He says his farmers' market has expanded to 104 markets per year, with two markets each week. Although, he says his market has retracted to once-per-week recently because of the heat.

      "We've grown a lot," said DeFelice. "This space is already too small for us. We've been in this space at 701 Whaley Street for over three years now, and we need more space; we need more parking."

      Due to the climate in South Carolina, farmers' markets run year-round.

      "If you wake up in Columbia, and it's Saturday morning, there's a market here -- unless it's Christmas," said DeFelice.

      The USDA shows the top reasons people go to farmers' markets are for fresh produce, to support local agriculture, and for convenience.

      An increased popularity of organic foods has also contributed to farmers' market popularity. Watsonia Farms, which has several stands throughout the Columbia area, has seen the difference.

      "We've gotten recently into the organics, and so that's been really good for us," said Becca Watson, who works at Watsonia Farms. "In the -- probably -- past decade, the surge of eating healthy started out, and I guess we could attribute that to it. And we kind of caught on, and luckily we did, because it's been a good decision for us -- it's been pretty popular recently."

      Tips for shopping at a farmers' market:

      • Go in the morning for the best selection or at the end of the day for the best deals.
      • Buy in bulk for lower prices.
      • Bring cash and small bills -- many vendors don't have credit card readers.