Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sustaining and Expanding Farmers Market Business

The Vancouver Sun recently ran an article about a report of Farmers Markets and their recent expansion. Can this expansion be sustained and what could be done to draw more people?
The report highlighted a lot of interesting information. The study was done in the Alberta, Canada area and reflects the trends seen in that region. The report was taken through telephone interviews with people who agreed to talk about their food purchasing/consumption patterns in the past.
People who resided in more urban areas were seen to be only seasonal purchasers as opposed to rural areas where many customers were year-round. The results of the report were positive in favor of the market. There was a general 30% increase in purchases per visit in the past twelve months, and an increase in farmers market revenue for the past summer season. After seeing these initial numbers, I think it is important to consider who is going to the farmers market and who isn't, and the reasons why. It would be interesting to see if they could pull in people from different demographics than they are currently bringing in.
One feature found in the Alberta farmers markets was the fact that there were many more people at a higher income-level shopping. There is no indication of times and days that the farmers market occurred in this area, so I will compare this to the Troy farmers market. This statistic makes sense to me, namely because of the time that the farmers market is held. The Troy farmers market is on Saturday mornings, a time when many lower class individuals probably have the farmers market as the last thing on their mind. Earning less money, they may be working, or watching their children as it is not a school day. It may be harder to get to the farmers market, or they may just want to enjoy time at home after a long and surely exhausting week. Perhaps if the market were held at a different time, it would draw more people of lower income levels. Also, maybe the publicity for it isn't prevalent enough that lower level income folks are aware. Many vegetables, fruits and other goods are sold at very reasonable prices at the farmers market, and you are supporting your local community. Through the integration of lower income individuals at the farmers market, maybe it will also promote healthier eating habits, as many lower income individuals (especially in cities) are subject to food deserts.
Another important factor that distinguished buyers from non-buyers was the prevalence of young children in the family. As age of the children increased, the less likely the parents were to attend their local farmers market. I speculate that this is because parents are more likely to have more time to be going to the farmer's market with younger children and bringing their children can be a very good experience. As the the children age though, there are more activities/clubs that the kids become affiliated in and the parents have to spend more time taking the children to activities (definitely on a Saturday morning in the case of Troy). As far as changing this, the only thing that can be said is that people will go out of their way for things that they value. If you value your community and the livelihood of farmers, and would like to get a product that you can easily trace the source of, then you will most likely attend the farmers market regularly. I think that education of the factors behind the farmers market would definitely change some of these trends that have been embedded in the people who are attending the farmers market and the people who aren't.
Another way to increase farmer's market attendance would be to simply show that it isn't some sort of taboo. In a short video we watched in class, an older population of people in Vermont were very against a food co-op. Maybe in the case of local farmers markets there is a population of local people who see it as unfamiliar just like the older people in Vermont saw the food co-op. The only real way to change that is to attempt to show these people that it is not a bad place to go to get food and that their assumptions about it could be untrue, either by publicity or another form of public relations.
I would love to hear more about expansions of farmers markets and their successes. Growing up in a small farming community I believe that it is really important to support local business as our world seems to become more and more homogenized everyday by big business.


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