Too Many Farmer's Markets?

David Trammel's picture

Are there too many farmer's markets now?

Why Are So Many Farmers Markets Failing? Because The Market Is Saturated

Eggert says that communities, often hyperfocused on improving access to fresh, locally grown foods and caught up in the excitement of a new neighborhood amenity, fail to think through the logistics: There are too few farmers and too few customers to make multiple markets viable. Rather than packing up their tents, smaller struggling markets could combine forces with each other to create a single, stronger farmers market.

Before setting up farmers markets in every available park, public square and church parking lot, Eggert encourages would-be organizers to consider if the demand for fresh foods is being met through existing markets and whether it makes sense to partner with a neighboring community to establish a market.

"Farmers markets are a key source of local food, but we'd like to see communities working together," says Eggert. "If five communities partnered on one market instead of starting five different markets, that one market would be a more exciting venue for customers and a more profitable market for farmers. We don't need more markets — we need stronger and more viable markets."

When I see how far some of these farmers are driving to get to these various farmer's markets, I too have wondered how they can support the effort for as little produce that they often do sell each time.

Two further issues as I see it:
1) People are only willing to drive so far to get to a farmer's markets, which goes against the consolidation possibilities;
2) Increased competition from many grocery stores, especially smaller chains or more independent places, who are also reaching out to local suppliers for produce, which in turn reduces the need to necessarily stop at a farmer's market.

When you put the broader picture together, what with CSA options, pick-your-own places and stands along the highway, farmer's markets, and produce in grocery stores, there really quite the range of purchase options competing against each other. Granted, I am speaking from an upper Midwest viewpoint, where we have all these. I'm sure in other parts of the country there are more limited options. It also doesn't help that two-income working families and typical work schedules goes against having too many options during the mid-week, making the focus for many needing to be on Saturday mornings only, which also can limit customer (and farmer) availability.

Kevin Anderson

ClareBroommaker's picture

Do we have any farmers here who grow for small market sales?

If seven miles apart is too close, then that means my city could only sustain one farmers market, which seems kind of ridiculous for 314,000 people. Seven miles from one spot in the city will take you outside the city boundaries.

I myself have never shopped at a farmer's market except for the historical one downtown which offers more imported from outside the region and, indeed, outside the country than locally grown stuff. That one is huge, but has maintained itself for something like 240 years. Last thing I bought there was locally grown-- sassafras root.

I did do business with a farmer who sells at the market closer to my home. When I was first planting the orchard from seedling trees on a city vacant lot, I bought a flatbed trailer of straw bales from him.
He made the delivery on a morning when he was also headed to a farmer's market 1.9 miles away from my little hillside. At the market he sells beef which has been raised on rotational intensely grazed pasture. It may be that his farmer's market business relies on orders made ahead of time. If so, the farmer's market would be more of a distribution point for presold items and people are definitely coming to pick up what they've ordered (and maybe prepaid). But having at least one seller with presold items probably underpins the other farmer's abilities to sell. People are coming to this market, not the one 7 miles away lest they lose their beef money.

Hi all for about 10 years I was associated as one of the organizers with a farmers market that was started on the west side of my city in an effort to bring more fresh and local foods to a under served area. Our market was the second one in the city and we were not on the same day as the first market established here. For the first couple of years we did well and could show 30 to 40 vendors a market and things seemed good.

However, since everyone seems to think these markets are a good idea, and as more and more of them started to form, we noticed that we were loosing vendors to those markets in higher rent neighborhoods. Naturally, any vendor wants to get the best price for their wares and have a lot of people pass by their booth, but as we lost vendors, we lost customers and it was a vicious spiral. In the last few years I was associated with the market, if we could get six vendors a market, we were doing good. I believe that the market is still going, but it subsists on grants from the city and not on vendor fees.

I don't think this is a lack of vendors, farmers or crafters, but a lack money in the area of the market to purchase those locally made and grown wares. Most of the people that lived around our market didn't shop there for anything, let alone food even though we had a SNAP matching program of up to 10 dollars and offers nearly free card table booths for backyard growers with surplus to sell. It seemed to me that the demise of this market indicted a class element was involved. As a rule, the prices of things at farmers markets are two to four times what you will find in the local grocery store and only rich folk could afford to shop there. I think that farmers markets were not perceived in our area as something for the average Joe who lived around it. Of course the grocery store has larger purchasing power and very frequently sells produce as a loss leader, so the price of the produce sold by many of our markets farmers (a living wage for them) was just out of line with what people are willing to pay. Trying to support the local economy just isn't something someone living on the edge is willing to do.