Trends in farmers and public markets
1. In January, USDA released a report Trends in Local and Regional Food Systems, which finds a slow down in the creation of farmers markets, and a decrease in patronage.
This makes sense to me, because farmers markets are but one element of the food marketing system, and appeal to select consumer segments. It makes sense that after 40 years most of the good locations have already been developed.
Plus, farmers markets generally have shifted to a more upscale clientele--it's rare to find farmers markets where the food is priced cheaply, the Downtown Farmers Market in Baltimore is definitely an exception in the Baltimore-Washington region where you can buy locally grown high quality fruits and vegetables for less than a supermarket (except for Aldi).
2. LA Times Food section columnist Russ Parsons wrote about the findings ("Has the farmers market movement peaked") in terms of Greater Los Angeles, which has some of the nation's best farmers markets, including in Santa Monica and Hollywood, and two great farmers market buildings/complexes (both privately owned), LA Farmers Market and Grand Central Market.
In general, markets have grown faster than the number of available farmers, and seem to have maxed out on those customer segments that are open to shopping at such venues. From the article:
"Every little borough, every little community wants a farmers market now,” Rodgers says. “Not because of what farmers markets are, but because they attract foot traffic.Note that I have an old piece about the various reasons that farmers markets are created ("The reason(s) why a farmers market is created shapes the type and mix of vendors allowed to sell").
“Everybody wants to put them in but they don’t want to make sure they’re valid farmers markets. A lot of these are called farmers markets, but they’re not actually farmers markets. They operate in name only.”
3. He was also featured on KPCC, a Los Angeles NPR affiliate ("LAT food columnist Russ Parsons on fate of farmers markets"), and one of his comments was pretty apt, calling farmers markets like those in Santa Monica--which get many thousands of patrons--street festivals in all but name, featuring food.
That's how Larry Gallo, former member of the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee, correctly termed the weekend market at Eastern Market, as a special event. It's true, 52 weekends, year round.
4. Grand Central Market had been in decline, but over the past few years has been undergoing revitalization, sparked in large part by adding very creative prepared food vendors--restaurants and stands--to the point where Bon Appetit Magazine has named the market as one of the country's Top 10 new "restaurants."
5. I haven't been there for awhile. I imagine it's getting a rejuvenation not unlike that at DC's Union Market, formerly the DC Farmers Market, but with much bigger scale.
DC's Union Market definitely been upscaled and the vendor mix has shifted mostly to prepared foods--there are a couple of butchers (one also has a cafe area) and one seller of fruits and vegetables.
Only two vendors made the shift from the old market, which targeted low income consumers, to the new, and their concepts got a complete reboot.
(I'm told that vendors aren't at the point of making money and that the landlord isn't providing much in the way of rent reductions, although they seem to be ok with late payments and not imposing penalties.)
An advantage possessed by GCM is that it is significantly larger. But I have warmed up to Union Market. It allows small proprietors to start businesses and sell on a much bigger scale than they would normally have access to. And face it, while the items might be expensive, they are pretty good. The proprietors are really motivated and turn out some great products.
And the Coffee Bean Frappe ice cream at Trickling Springs Dairy has to be about the best ice cream around and is well worth the price. (We first tried it at R&B Oyster Bar in Colonial Beach, Virginia, which made us big fans of Trickling Springs' ice cream. All their flavors are for sale at the Union Market branch.)
Lexington Market in Baltimore by YouTuber, on Flickr.
6. A massive market study (331 pages!) has been produced for Lexington Market in Baltimore (accessible via this WBAL-TV story "$26M plan to renovate Lexington Market detailed in report," ). One of the interesting suggestions is setting different rental rates for prepared food vendors that would be higher than the rental rates for the vendors of fresh food.
I am only 1/4 of the way through the plan, but it's somewhat disappointing as it misses out on some key opportunities (becoming once again Downtown's key food hub, not just for the Westside, and as a center for entrepreneurial food business development) and is overly facile in listing potential vendors--they basically listed vendors selling at places like Union Market in DC, without much of a focus on Greater Baltimore or Maryland more generally.
7. Relevant to DC's Eastern Market, people in Hamilton, Ontario seem to be surprised that despite a recent renovation of their public market building, they need to conduct regular maintenance and capital improvements, and that it costs money ("Farmers' Market needs $1M in upgrades," Hamilton Spectator).
Interestingly, the project was part of a co-located project with the city's main library.
Thai Community Development Center, and one of their initiatives--similar to something I've suggested for Anacostia--is the opening of a food and craft market, called Thai Town Marketplace, to expand food access options and as a platform for small business development.