I remember the first time I tried an orange watermelon. I was strolling through the Valley Junction Farmers Market in West Des Moines, and a vendor was slicing up samples of melons in pastel shades of pink, yellow and orange.

It was one of the sweetest watermelons I’ve ever tasted. So of course, I immediately bought one. Only seconds later did I realize that I had to haul the watermelon several blocks back to my car. But that didn’t stop me from coming back the next week to take home another melon. And another the week after that.

Here in Iowa, we love our farmers markets. Iowa ranks fourth in the number of farmers markets in the United States and second in the number of markets per capita according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

National Farmers Market Week runs from Aug. 5 to 11, and Iowans are encouraged to take advantage of the fresh fruits and vegetables available at more than 220 farmers markets throughout the state. Yet farmers markets are more than great places to buy ripe tomatoes or a baker’s dozen of sweet corn. They also do so much good in the community.

Farmers markets provide Iowa families with healthy foods. They help beginning and small-scale farmers earn an income, and they provide a community gathering place, where locals can sample new foods, listen to street musicians and watch the kids play outside on a summer day.

The Iowa Farm Bureau is proud to support the state’s farmers markets and the farmers who work hard to provide Iowans with locally grown, nutritious meats, poultry, eggs and produce.

In 2018, the grassroots farm organization’s centennial year, the Iowa Farm Bureau donated more than 1 million recyclable plastic bags to more than 1,700 farmers market vendors throughout the state. The market bags help Iowa farmers save the extra cost of buying their own bags, while also making it more convenient for customers to safely transport the locally grown produce home. This was the 10th year that Iowa Farm Bureau has donated the bags.

In addition, the Iowa Farm Bureau helped launch a successful pilot project that expanded the availability of wireless EBT equipment at farmers markets statewide. The EBT equipment allows farmers to accept debit and credit cards, as well as SNAP cards, which helps increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables for all Iowans.

Since its beginning, the Iowa Farm Bureau has worked to create a vibrant future for agriculture, farm families and their communities.

To learn more about Iowa Farm Bureau’s “Century Strong” commitment to Iowa rural vitality, visit www.iowafarmbureau.com/100.

And to find the dates and times of all of Iowa’s farmers markets, visit the Iowa Department of Land and Ag Stewardship website at http://www.iowaagriculture.gov/horticultureandFarmersMarket.asp.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer