Farmers’ Markets Bloom Again

May 06, 2011
Tom Ryan

Farmers’ markets appear to be opening in warming parts of the country
to strong crowds and highly-positive press. Last year, 6,132 farmers’ markets
were open nationwide, a 16 percent increase over the year before, and double
the number of markets a decade ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

articles heralding the openings attributed their popularity to consumers looking
to eat fresher food and support local businesses.

“It’s nice to support our local farmers,” Joyce Beneke, visiting
a local farmers’ market in San Antonio, told KSAT 12 in Texas. “And I’m
into ‘fresh.'”

Consumers are also said to assume that produce from the
local farmer will be safer.

“People are more aware (of pesticides) and they want to go organic,” Celia
Rios, with Peralta Farms in Natalia, told KSAT.

One change over the last decade
is that farmers’ markets are increasingly offering more variety beyond fruits
and vegetables. For instance, the market in Kennett, MO will be offering hand-made
crafts, handmade soaps, lotions, salsa and candles. Also for sale will be
herbs and spices, bedding plants, hanging and potted plants and cut flowers,
as well as cheese, meats, fish, poultry, eggs, baked goods, local honey, maple
syrup and preserves.

Farmers’ markets also appear to be getting more
organized. Credit cards are increasingly being taken by stands. In Minneapolis,
food stamps are being increasingly accepted.

Still, some believe of the charm
of farmers’ markets is the social aspect.

“What I love and have learned is that every market has its own vibe,
its own personality,” said Pascale Le Draoulec, director of farmers markets
in Hastings, Irvington and Chappaqua in New York and a former restaurant critic
for the New York Daily News, to “The market has to reflect
the community; each is a place where people can come and hang out, and experience
small town life on the weekends.”

Mr. Le Draoulec said he favored the European approach “where if
you’re having a dinner
party or simply a family dinner, you can come to the market and get the freshest,
most flavorful locally grown or produced things you need.”

But he also
advocated a family-friendly emphasis.

“My children often spend the day with me at the market. They like
hanging out with the vendors (who always give them tastes), and are gaining
a huge appreciation of food. They’ve helped plant lettuce, and then watch
it come to market three weeks later. It’s such a great experience for
them. It’s important
for them and for all of us to know that there’s a story behind the food.”

Discussion Questions: What do you think is behind the popularity of farmers’ markets? Does the growth of these markets represent a competitive threat to food retailers and, if so, what should they do about it? 

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12 Comments on "Farmers’ Markets Bloom Again"

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Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
10 years 2 days ago

In America today there is a continual and insatiable search for freshness, uniqueness, change of pace and perceived betterment. Farmers markets tend to fill, or at least partially fill, that need for many consumers.

And here’s something to think about: Supermarkets might well be served by creating farmers markets on the parking lots of their larger stores during the peak season.

Ian Percy
10 years 2 days ago

Having just come from a lecture last night on the toxins in our food, beauty products and building products, seeking out a farmer’s market is as much about fighting back than anything. Google any of the ingredients listed on your shampoo bottle you can’t pronounce and it scares you to death. And notice that they don’t tell you in the supermarket what’s in that waxy stuff on your fruit and vegetables.

The doctor doing the lecture pointed out that almost a dozen major toxins are found in umbilical blood of newborns. In other words kids are now born toxic!

This pushes me into my most passionate rant about how all of our problems — health, economics, energy, education, etc. — are caused by self-inflicted wounds.

So God bless farmers who actually have a conscience and who care. I will drive farther and pay more with great delight.

Liz Crawford
10 years 2 days ago

I believe the real appeal of farmers’ markets isn’t the organic produce, or the localism, but going to market as an occasion. It’s a fun outing, either alone or with a friend. Surrounded by fresh flowers and produce on a summer’s day is delightful. Further, there are fewer events like this for modern-day consumers who are digitized, wired and confronted with increasing quick convenience. The farmer’s market is proof that shopping is a pleasure – and should be.

Tony Orlando
10 years 2 days ago

We try to bring in as much locally grown corn, strawberries, tomatoes, and other items in the summer, as long as farmers want to sell their product to us. Most of the farmers have their own road side stands and that sometimes makes it tough to get the produce, but there is always someone with a bumper crop who is willing to help us. I love local stuff, and our customers can one-stop shop for it here.

Paula Rosenblum
10 years 2 days ago
I think the article has it exactly right. Consumers in the US are finally recognizing that supporting local business is smart, and organic markets are all the better. There is also a perception that the food is fresher. I really enjoy going to a local Farmers Market. It’s actually NOT so convenient, so I don’t do it as often I would otherwise, but I always like what I buy there. Cheaper than Whole Foods Market, but just as fresh if not fresher. Another trend we ought to look at, at some point, is the Food Truck craze. It actually seems to run parallel to the local farmers market in its appeal. In Miami, food trucks gather at a “mega-event” every Tuesday night by Johnson and Wales University. There must be about 50 of them there, and they surround an open green space where a band plays (reggae or jazz, depending on the week), and families and friends gather. It’s a “bring your own chair” event. I expect we’ll see more of this in other cities… Read more »
Daryle Hier
Daryle Hier
10 years 2 days ago

As someone who doesn’t enjoy shopping, having to go to another location to get fresh or organic foods doesn’t appeal to me at all.

BUT, I now take that extra time to visit the farmers’ markets because the production of our foods from supermarkets is at best, altered. The foods you get at the local farmers’ markets tend to be fresh and organic (though not all) and knowing I support someone just down the street gives me more trust in that food than that processed by a conglomerate from who-know’s-where. Plus, I’m sick and tired of supporting subsidized cronyism.

Farmers’ markets gain is that simple – trust.

Gene Detroyer
10 years 2 days ago

The growth of farmers’ markets is of little or no threat to supermarkets. Despite the growth, the share of the food dollar is infinitesimal. Further, farmers’ markets cannot proliferate to the level to make them a threat because they cannot produce products in the quantities to meet the cheap food needs of the U.S.

That being said, people are more sensitive to the detrimental effect of agribusiness – so much so that agribusiness doesn’t want people to find out how their food is actually produced. Kansas, Montana, Iowa and Minnesota have actually passed laws that make it illegal for whistle blowers to report agribusiness abuses in the production of food.

Al McClain
Al McClain
10 years 2 days ago

Farmers’ markets have three attributes that are iin vogue:
1. Fresh
2. Local
3. Social
Some supermarkets could learn a lot by regular visits.

Ryan Mathews
10 years 2 days ago

I live two blocks from a well established farmers’ market — one that sells a number of items produced in our municipal garden (a sort of “double local” effect — eating product grown and sold in your own zipcode).

Gene is right about the agribusiness issue and that raises another benefit of farmers’ markets — their ability to create and sustain a market for items that can’t be — or aren’t — produced in large quantities like “true” (as opposed to hot house) heirloom tomatoes, squash, apples and other produce items. Biodiversity may not be at the top of everyone’s list of concerns, but it ought to be.

Oh…and the famers’ market doesn’t seem to hurt sales at the local supermarket, the local mega green grocers, Whole Foods or even the local Meijer superstore. There seem to be enough customers to go around — an exercise in sustainable retail diversity.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10 years 2 days ago
Living in Connecticut, I have seen firsthand the growth of farmers’ markets and organic farms and I am thankful for so many reasons. 1) Encouraging local farmers not to sell to developers to build houses is a big plus. 2) With local farming, you have a better understanding of how the crops are being grown and under what conditions (pesticides, genetic, etc.). Remember, these farmers live in your community or the surrounding area. If they want your trust and business, their products have to be the best. 3) Buying local is safer. McCormick is now importing dried garlic from China. That should concern all consumers. Gilroy California is the capital of garlic in the US and it may cost a few pennies more, but it is worth every penny to buy garlic grown here. Even better is buying garlic from a local farmer and drying it yourself. If you have not read “Stirring it up” by Gary Hirshberg, the CE-Yo of Stoneyfield Farm Yogurt, you should pick it up today and read it. Not only… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 2 days ago
I remember my earlier years in Baltimore where there were indoor farmers’ style markets for generations. A good friend worked there in his father’s stall selling fresh food products locally grown. He often speaks about the customer relations and business skills he developed through his father and the customers frequenting the market. It was always a thrill to spend time there watching the people and getting free samples.Then came the outdoor summer markets where the local farmers sold their fruits and vegetables. Always the freshest, sweetest corn at the most reasonable prices. I would call my wife early in the afternoon, tell her not to cook dinner because I was stopping at the market. Even writing about it makes my taste buds recall the wonderful times and fresh food we had. This is one of the beauties of the summer months and longer hours of daylight. I am now living in Florida. But I remember one trip to Baltimore last summer when I literally packed a suitcase to return with fresh corn and tomatoes. It… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 2 days ago

Tomatoes, the most popular item sold in farmers’ markets, are behind their popularity. We’ve had several years of poor tomato weather for backyard gardeners and the supermarket stuff is yukky (don’t you hate those bony fibers in the middle of store-bought ‘maters?). But, there are expert farmers who have the experience, care, and special techniques to produce great tomatoes. They show up in local farmers’ markets and, oddly enough, for more than $4 a pound in Safeway stores as organic heirloom tomatoes. They’re great. But the farmers’ market heirlooms seem to be even better.

To underscore the comments that farmers’ markets do not threaten supermarket sales, some in our area even host markets in their parking lots. My only complaint about the farmers’ market in my town is that it only sets up once a week for just a few hours.


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