National Farmers Market Week, August 7th - August 13th
-- US Department of Agriculture press release
1. List of the best farmers markets. While the list is suspect in my opinion -- for example there's no way that Salt Lake City's Downtown Market is 23rd compared to some of the markets ranked more highly, the Daily Meal lists what it avers are the top 101 farmers markets in the US. It does mix public markets, which are building-based, and farmers markets, which typically are outside and only one or two days per week.
2. Individual farms getting trumped by aggregators. Non-farm specific more corporate "CSAs" are taking business away from individually farmer run CSAs. "When Community-Supported Agriculture Is Not What It Seems," New York Times.
The idea behind CSAs--community supported agriculture--was that by committing to a particular farmer for a season, and contributing capital towards planting, risks could be better managed. Food hubs are aggregators, bringing together products from many farmers, at a bigger scale, and less "movement" oriented. Aggregators, "sophisticated food hubs" disagree with the characterization of the article ("Editorial: Local Agriculture Needs The New York Times to Dig Deeper," Modern Farmer).
Relay Foods in the DC region is an aggregator. It just merged with another firm (Merger between online grocers sparks employee layoffs," CBS-TV, Charlottesville, Virginia). Relay sets up at various distribution points in the Metro area, including Eastern Market in DC.
Photo of the Dupont Circle Farmers Market from the Borderstan blog.
3. More markets selling less fresh food. Farmers markets are selling more prepared foods, and less food that needs to be cooked, at least at the Dupont Circle farmers market in Washington, DC ("For some growers, farmers markets just aren't what they used to be," Washington Post).
A similar article ran in the Montana newspaper, the Missoulian, "The farmers market scene: Social scene negatively impacting vendors’ bottom lines across country." It discusses how the original farmers market in Missoula was more ascetic, only selling producer grown goods, and no prepared foods, and how another market, the "Meat Market," with smoothies and such came about to get in on the action. Now they co-exist--no info on sales though.
And interestingly there was a spirited response to the Missoulian article, in the local independent weekly "A farmers market killing hipster strikes back," defending markets as being more about the experience and less about buying copious quantities of food to prepare throughout the week.
4. Markets as experiences. Besides the issue of whether or not people know how to cook and the explosion of farmers markets in this city and across the country, which naturally is going to depress the sales at a particular market now facing increased competition, a big part of the issue likely has to do with the setting of the market.
For example, regardless of the intent of the operators, a market on a Sunday morning in Dupont Circle is going to be more of an event or experience, a point on the journey to a restaurant for brunch out, and not a place to buy fruits and vegetables and items like meat or eggs that need to be taken back home to be refrigerated.
The Farmers Market Coalition publishes a graphic (left) about the purposes of a farmers market.
I've written about this, suggesting a typology for why a farmers market is created, "The reason(s) why a farmers market is created shapes the type and mix of vendors allowed to sell."
When a market is an activation device for commercial district revitalization or community building, revenue generation for farmers selling goods at the market can be less of a priority, especially for attendees. The same is an issue with the explosion of markets, more markets reduces sales for individual vendors, even if the total revenue for all markets is greater.
But people will still clamor to open a market "for their neighborhood" as an activation device, not thinking so much about how much money farmers might make and the impact on other nearby pre-existing markets.
There is also a greater recognition on the part of real estate developers that farmers markets are great enliveners ("Blending Farmers' Harvests with Retail, Multifamily Developments," Urban Land Magazine).
But sometimes selling unprepared food doesn't meet the needs of the district. For example, the Waterfront Partnership in Baltimore, which covers the Inner Harbor district, has launched an early evening and an early morning "pop up market" to sell food and beverages that can be immediately consumed. It's a great idea for activity the space and building awareness of the organization and a sense of community amongst workers in the district, but it isn't intended to sell fresh food ("Inner Harbor pop up market expands with breakfast hours," Baltimore Business Journal).
Personally, I am a fan of fewer but better markets. The Downtown Salt Lake Farmers Market is a perfect example.
SLC only has a couple of markets each week. As a result, the main Saturday market is premiere, easily "ten times better" than the best markets in DC (Dupont Circle, Silver Spring, Alexandria, Eastern Market), because all the best producers are in one place. It's a spectacle and experience, but also a great place to buy food, and the range of products on offer is incredible.
The same is true in Greater Baltimore. While there are more markets there than in Salt Lake, a slimmer array of markets means the ones that are there can be great, e.g., Sunday Market, Waverly Market on Saturday, markets in Towson, rather than having a plethora of underpowered but local markets.
(Although I was told of a great Latino-focused market on Saturdays on the grounds of the Howard University Law School in DC's Van Ness neighborhood.)
5. Increased competition from supermarkets. The Charleston Post & Courier suggests that part of the problem for farmers market is the expanded range of produce, including organic items, at local supermarkets ("There's such a thing as too much fun at farmers markets"), including the rise of "farmers market" like stores such as Sprout's and Lucky's (which recently received a major investment from the Kroger supermarket company),
Not to mention increased focus by many supermarket chains on selling locally grown fresh produce.
In the DC region, both Giant Supermarkets and Harris-Teeter highlight their purchase of locally grown goods. Of course, Whole Foods has been doing this for awhile. Also see "Local farmers markets show Utah pride," Progressive Grocer Magazine.
Similarly, an article on the "grocerant trend" where supermarkets are more focused on selling prepared foods, to take home or for on-site consumption, mentioned that at Mariano's, a growing chain of 35 stores in Greater Chicago, they have 20 event managers ("Marketing Engages Customers With Your Retail Foodservice Concepts: Mariano’s Puck," NRA Grocerant e-letter).
It's tough for farmers markets to compete against companies which have a lot more money to spend on marketing.
6. Farmers markets in Greater Tampa aren't what they seem. Earlier in the year, Laura Reiley, the food editor of the Tampa Bay Times, investigated farmers markets in the Tampa Bay area ("From farm to fable"), finding much of the food sold was purchased from brokers, likely of goods rejected by Publix, which is based in Lakeland, Florida, and is the largest and dominant supermarket chain in the state.
7. More money to spend at farmers markets by federal food program recipients. Lots of markets get support from the US Department of Agriculture to provide extra monies to food and WIC benefits recipients, so that they can buy more produce at farmers markets. Partly this is to encourage the consumption of more fresh foods, but also to compensate for what can be higher prices compared to supermarkets.
I didn't know that there is a similar program for seniors ("Yonkers offers seniors farmers market vouchers," Westchester Journal-News, Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, USDA).
Wasted: How America is losing up to 40% of its food from farm to fork to landfill, Natural Resources Defense Council).
Some grocery stores are starting to sell "less pretty" produce at a discount, as a way to offer items at a variety of price points.
A couple vendors do that at the Takoma Farmer's Market on Sundays, and I try to purchase those items (e.g., dinged apples are great for pie, tomatoes for soup or sauce, etc.) as a way to save money (e.g., $1/pound for tomatoes instead of $4/pound).
CUESA, the farmers market organization in San Francisco, has developed an ad campaign promoting the purchase of "weird" produce, which tastes fine but looks funny ("This Sexy Ad Campaign Wants to Get You to the Farmers Market," Modern Farmer). Note that attractiveness criteria were developed by the USDA in the Depression, as a way to cut supply and boost prices.
I also use overripe fruit in smoothies and baking (in fact I started baking at the outset to make banana bread to use up overripe bananas).
While farmers at many markets provide goods after the market closes to food pantries and such, it seems like during fruit growing season, they could produce smoothies on site at markets as a way to monetize unsellable produce and to promote better practices more generally.
9. Youth farmers market in Meridian, Idaho. Obviously, in agriculture regions, people grow food and there are programs like 4H and Future Farmers of America, working work with youth. The farmers market in Meridian, Idaho is run by teens, selling produce and other items that they grow or make themselves ("You can grow it at Youth Farmers Market," KTVB-TV). I thought that was pretty cool.
-- Meridian Youth Farmers Market
10. Accommodating sales by home growers with an extranormal bounty. I noticed a farmers market in Salt Lake's Westside neighborhood that will let home gardeners sell their extras at the entry price of $5 for a table.
11. Pop-up breakfast events at Santa Cruz farmers markets. Tickets are $37, but the meals look to be awesome. What a great event. From the website:
We at the Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets miss no opportunity to celebrate around good food. For the 2016 season, we are hosting 4 pop-up breakfast events at the Westside and Scotts Valley Markets. Guests gather to sit down at long tables with friends and enjoy a fresh, multi-course meal.
At each event admired local chefs serve up sensational mixes of simple cuisine made with seasonal ingredients from the very farms that sell at the markets. Local youth leaders from food justice organization FoodWhat serve the fair and farmers speak about their work. Events are unique, each one offering its own pleasing qualities: a wood-fired stove, seasonal blooms, fine charcuterie. With each event we learn more about how to make this moment magical, connecting farmers, chefs, our local landscape and you.12. Consider adding dietitians and nutrition programs to public markets and farmers markets. More and more supermarket companies--started by Hyvee in the Midwest and Martin's in the Mid-Atlantic--have RDs on-site to work with individual customers providing dietary and nutrition advice, provide supermarket tours, etc. ("Supermarket Dietitians: What They Can Do for You and Your Clients," Today's Dietitian. From the article:
Ten Things a Supermarket Dietitian Can Do for You and Your PatientsAlso see "Dietitian on aisle four: Grocery stores are calling in health experts," Chicago Tribune and "The Next Big Marketing Weapon For Supermarkets --The Dietitian, Advertising Age.
1. Teach people how to cook.
2. Educate about reading labels.
3. Increase fruit and vegetable consumption.
4. Manage food allergies.
5. Media wellness coverage.
6. Teach kids about nutrition.
7. Dispense credible nutrition information.
8. Promote wellness programs.
9. Make connections in the food system.
10. Improve the RD image
The KITCHEN at Boston Public Market.
Many newer market buildings have demonstration kitchens ("'Demonstration kitchen' planned for new Saginaw farmers market," Saginaw News), but I don't think they have developed programming with local supplemental food programs, the State Department of Agriculture, and county agriculture extension programs.
Plus, now I believe that market buildings should incorporate "incubator" and office space where "fellow traveler" organizations and related government agencies could be housed on-site.
13. Markets and market buildings as a way to foster retail and business development. As always, it's good to mention that farmers and flea markets can be a way to seed retail business development, the same with food trucks. People can start off selling in an environment that requires less capital and generate the funds necessary for a "bricks and mortar" location ("Entrepreneurs Go From Farm to Retail," B'more Media).
How Public Markets Support Small Businesses Owned by Women, Minorities and Immigrants").
The Portland Mercado is one example and is sponsored by the Portland Development Commission, the city's economic development agency ("Portland Mercado opens, providing space and support for Latino business owners," Portland Oregonian). But these projects are hard. An Oregon Public Broadcasting story comments on how the building was 9 years in the making ("After 9 Years, Portland Mercado Opens Its Doors").
Thai Town Marketplace is a similar project in Los Angeles, but I don't it has launched yet, even though I saw a presentation about them last year.
14. Don't forget that August is the big month for county and state agriculture fairs, which are always fun.