WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently celebrated National Farmers Market Week with a kickoff event at the Columbia Heights Farmers Market in Washington.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that 8,144 farmers markets now are listed in the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, up from about 5,000 in 2008.

The directory, voluntarily updated by farmers market managers, state departments of agriculture, marketing associations and others, is published online at www. farmersmarkets.usda.gov . This year, the directory has been upgraded to include a new Application Programming Interface that improves customer access to farmers market data.

“Farmers markets are an important public face for agriculture and a critical part of our nation’s food system,” Vilsack said. “They provide benefits not only to the farmers looking for important income opportunities, but also help fill a growing consumer demand for fresh, healthy foods.

“In recent years, USDA has stepped up efforts to support local and regional marketing opportunities for producers, including a modernized farmers market directory to help connect farmers, consumers, communities and businesses around the country.”

Anne Alonzo, administrator of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, announced the newly updated National Farmers Market Directory information.

“Due to consumer demand for local food, we are seeing an increase in the diversity of market offerings and more participation from small businesses and farms,” she said. “This year, we are focusing on the sustainability and maturity of farmers markets — keeping new and old markets thriving and improving. Farmers markets around the country continue to be popular social events for families and communities.”

Local food and direct marketing opportunities, including farmers markets, are one of the fastest-growing segments of agriculture. According to the latest Census of Agriculture, direct sales of food products from farmers to individual consumers rose by nearly 50 percent between 2002 and 2007.

Worth an estimated $1 billion in 2005, local food sales grew to $4.8 billion in 2007 and nearly $7 billion last year, according to industry estimates. For nearby businesses in major cities across the U.S., having a farmers market nearby means an average increase in sales of anywhere from $19,000 to $15 million, according to a Marketumbrella research paper published in 2012.

The 10 top states accounting for more than half — 51.3 percent — of all markets listed in the directory database are: California, 759; New York, 637; Illinois, 336; Michigan, 331; Ohio, 300; Pennsylvania, 290; Massachusetts, 289; Wisconsin, 286; Missouri and Virginia, tied at 246; and Iowa and North Carolina, tied at 229.

Among geographic regions, the mid-Atlantic — Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia — increased to a 11.98 percent market share in 2013, from a 11.65 percent in 2012; the Northeast — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont — increased to a 29.11 percent market share in 2013, from a 27.48 percent share in 2012; and the Southeast region — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee — increased to a 5.03 percent market share in 2013, from a 4.79 percent share in 2012.

The USDA has taken several steps to support direct marketing farmers as part of the department’s commitment to support local and regional food systems and increase consumer access to fresh, healthy food in communities across the country. For example:

* The USDA launched a new API for the National Farmers Market Directory in May which helps consumers locate farmers markets nearby. APIs enable programmers to interact directly with an open data source to work with real-time data — rather than a static data export that can become immediately out of date.

The development is part of the USDA’s commitment to expanding opportunities for local farmers markets and small businesses;

* The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has outfitted more farmers markets with the ability to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to improve access to fresh produce and healthy foods by SNAP recipients.

The USDA recently announced $4 million in available funding to help farmers markets and direct marketing farmers purchase and operate wireless point-of-sale equipment. Currently, more than 3,800 farmers markets are authorized to accept SNAP in fiscal year 2012, and farmers markets generate more than $16 million in SNAP sales; and

* The USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative serves the growing local and regional market segment. This Initiative coordinates and strengthens the USDA’s work on local and regional food systems.