Sun 21 Mar 2010 12:49 am
“Goat meat can get you in at any farmers market.”
That’s just one of the interesting tidbits of information in a generally comprehensive and frank new study on farmers markets in King County. Staff from the county Agriculture Program surveyed market managers and farmers for the report, yielding a nice trove of data on the challenges markets face and some paths toward improving their long-term stability. Some of the summaries and conclusions will be no-brainers to dedicated market watchers: Farmers markets need good, long-term locations, which are in short supply. Having more vendors process debit cards and food stamp benefits would increase sales. It’s frustrating that so many shoppers believe prices are higher at farmers markets than grocery stores, and frustrating that grocery stores are now grabbing the “locally grown” label while selling a very different product. Still, the report has plenty of new information and plain-spoken advice for the future. Here’s a random sampling of points that caught my eye:
1. There were 39 farmers markets in the county last year. Ten years earlier, there had been just nine. The markets are clearly boons to communities, but they’ve grown so fast there hasn’t been time to research what makes for successful markets in different areas — or time to develop regulations and land use politicies to support them. The growth also is causing concern among some market managers that newer markets are pulling shoppers away from established markets, and some farmers are reporting that their per-market sales are dropping.”If the number of farmers markets is to continue to grow successfully, it will have to be matched with increasing the shopper base and increasing the number of farmers available to sell at them” — and there are plenty of roadblocks to both those goals.
2. Most farmers need to earn a minimum of $600 per market day. “Information from a number of county markets indicates their average vendor sales are less than $600.”
3. As more markets open or expand, it becomes harder for market managers to know all farmers personally. “Some markets have discovered vendors who claim to grow the crop they are selling, but in fact are buying it from a packing house or other farmer. Besides not complying with the market’s policies, these vendors tend to underprice the legitimate farmers at the market, who may decide to leave the market. It is extremely difficult for market managers to verify the accuracy of vendor claims…Farmers understand this is a difficult and sensitive issue and wish market managers had better tools to address it.
4. Long-time farmers with “a recognized product and an established presence” can pretty much choose the markets where they want to set up shop. New farmers find it harder to gain a spot, especially at more desirable markets with higher sales. Some immigrant farmers have a hard time getting into markets “because they tend to grow the same products which are overrepresented at many markets.” But farmers who have a specialized product in high demand can pick their market regardless of how long they’ve been in the business or how big their farm is. “As one farmer noted in a small group discussion, ‘Goat meat can get you in at any farmers market.”
Interested in seeing more? Take a look at the full study here.
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