I’m hearing stories about so many farmers markets popping up that many of our long-time vendors are getting creative to stay at the top of their game. It’s a bit of the “good news – bad news” type of story, but in many rural communities, the good news is that we are finally getting access to a local market for fresh foods and a community gathering place. From cooking demonstrations to musicians, food vendors and community group raffles, farmers markets are becoming about so much more than food. But will this sustain the farmers?
Long lived markets, like the thirty year old Fayetteville Farmers Market, have endured the lean years of building their reputation and customer base to now spend much of their time working on points systems and deciding how many vendors and spaces will keep them sustainable. Competition from new or growing farming enterprises has forced a change in the “business as usual” marketing and product line for many growers.
In my small community, our farmers market is just hitting high growth at five years, but we still see vendors packing up vegetables at the end of the day. We are working hard to build a supportive community around the growers, but we too see many local people who come for the community camaraderie and events, rather than purchasing groceries for the whole week. If our small market counts 1,000 visitors one Saturday morning, I would hope to see all twelve to fifteen fresh food vendors sell out, but that is not the case yet.
Like many savvy organic growers and their consumers, we have developed a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group – we are adopting our own farmer and working closely to ensure that as consumers we are as deeply invested as our growers. I believe this shared responsibility is a keystone to sustainable local foods. I’ve been hearing about some new ways to operate a CSA, so I’ll be sharing these ideas in a future BLAWG!