Thu 17 Sep 2009 2:26 pm
Farmers markets have been rising in popularity for years, but they still mainly appeal to hardcore customers. A vast potential audience of “second-tier” shoppers claims in surveys to want locally-grown foods, but fears it will be too expensive, too inconvenient, or otherwise too complicated to shop at a farmers market.
Now the non-profit Cascade Harvest Coalition is launching an interesting research project with the help of a state grant, working with Good Food Strategies to “address and overcome the triggers that are putting a ceiling on the kinds and numbers of consumers who look for and buy locally grown foods.” Three markets statewide - Phinney, Anacortes, and Shelton — are participating, and each one gets $4,500 for promotions to draw new customers in. At Phinney, you’ll see the results over the next two weeks in the form of $2 “Fresh Bucks” coupons available at various Phinney and Greenwood businesses.
The coupons can be spent like cash at the Friday market, which runs through Oct. 2. (Participating businesses will display posters, but the market association says they’ll include Greenwood True Value Hardware, Makeda Coffee, and Whole Life Yoga.)
The pilot programs were chosen as representavies of the various issues faced by other markets around the state and country. Phinney, for instance, has enthusiastic neighborhood shoppers, but also plenty of challenges, according to its survey data: Its rent is high, space is tight, it’s not visible from the main road. Friday is a tough day for farmers, who are simultaneously preparing for the big weekend markets. Sales have been stagnating, and some vendors are concerned about the balance of fresh foods to prepared foods — that it has “become a “pizza” market, less about farmers and more about a Friday night pizza party.” All difficult issues to overcome.
I’m so interested in the project because, as one of those hardcore market lovers, I’ve long felt that we need more and better data on farmers markets and shopping patterns. We have some small-scale studies, for instance, showing it can be cheaper to shop at the farmers markets — but for every one, there can be a counter argument about price, convenience, seasonality, and so on. Farmers markets are growing in number, but sales aren’t keeping pace. The coalition certainly isn’t neutral on the issue — its goal is to “relocalize the food system in Washington” — but it’s collecting valuable information and conducting what promise to be interesting experiments.
So, if you wouldn’t normally visit a farmers market, would $2 change your mind?
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