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Are There Too Many Farmers’ Markets?

Are There Too Many Farmers’ Markets?

 

Could there be too many farmers’ markets now? The past decades have certainly seen significant growth. In 2005, there were 4,093 markets across the country according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). But as of August 5, there are 7,175, with 1,043 established this year, for a growth of 17 percent. The USDA charts the growth of farmers’ markets on its website. Farmers interviewed in a New York Times article note that profits are down by a third or more as they find themselves competing in an increasingly saturated market of purveyors of fresh basil, chard and heirloom tomatoes.

Stacy Miller, executive director of the Farmers’ Market Coalition, a nonprofit organization supporting farmers’ markets, notes that the growth has mostly been a boon to most communities. In the warmer months on Wednesdays, I’m always glad to walk through a farmers’ market in Journal Square right outside the PATH station in traffic-clogged, gritty Jersey City. Without the market, residents are limited to the less-than-pristine — and not very health-looking — produce in bodegas and small neighborhood stores.

But other communities, such as the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, have more markets than the population seems able to support. There were 23 farmers’ markets in the Pioneer Valley this summer. Rick Wysk, who farms eight acres at River Bend Farm in Hadley, says his profits are down by a half:

“You have a certain amount of demand, and the more you spread out the demand, you’re making less,” said Mr. Wysk, who has been selling at markets for 13 years. He believes his business is further hurt by additional markets that opened this year in Northampton and Springfield.

But the glut is actually most acute in more densely-populated areas. Brigitte Moran, the executive director of the Marin Markets in San Rafael, California, says that (not surprisingly) San Francisco just has too many farmers’ markets:

“We have this mentality of, oh, we have a Starbucks on every corner. So why can’t we have a farmers’ market? The difference is these farmers actually have to grow it and drive it to the market.”

Diane Eggert, the executive director of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York, notes that, in some parts of New York state, farmers’ markets are beginning to ““cannibalize each other’s customer base.”

Better study of an area and planning before opening a new market would prevent over-saturation. But more communities want to open farmers’ markets without fully doing such, says Miller. Farmers will often sign onto a new market out of concerns of staying profitable, without knowing if the new market will make it. A study by Oregon State University found that, of the 62 farmers’ markets that opened in Oregon from 1998 to 2005, 32 failed.

United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack proclaimed last week, August 7-13, 2011, as National Farmers Market Week. The number of farmers markets has grown 150 percent, from 2,863 in 2000 to 7,175 in 2011. Even as the movement for more farmers’ markets has clearly been successful, has it started to experience growing pains? At the very end of the New York Times article, a particularly compelling question gets raised, namely, what exactly constitutes a farmers’ market. Should they only sell vegetables and produce? What about home-baked breads and goods? What about crafts and antiques? That is, if farmers’ markets only sold what farmers produce, would that make a difference?

Related Care2 Coverage

Live Bird Sales Banned at Farmer’s Market

At The Farmers Market: Local Craftspeople or Imported “Arts N Crap”?

Are You Shopping At A Fake Farmers’ Market?

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109 comments

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2:37PM PDT on Sep 17, 2011

There really can`t be too many farmers markets, at least there`s not enough at this point.

5:24PM PDT on Sep 2, 2011

The supermarkets must feel threatened if this topic is even coming up. It's a good sign.

8:19PM PDT on Aug 30, 2011

There are never enough farmers' markets in my opinion...

10:16PM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

Never too many farmers market! Thanks for sharing.

8:17PM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

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6:39PM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

The problem is not that there are too many farmer's markets, but that there are not enough people supporting them!
An ideal situation would be when there is fresh produce available at least half of the week at farmer's markets and supermarket produce decreases.

5:43PM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

We have weekend farmers markets,I love them,such a lot of choice all year round.Who cares if theres a bump on a spud,or apples that are different sizes.Only super stores care about that.They dont care about the taste,just care about how long they can make the goods last.

4:53PM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

All for free enterprise, but some do seem to set themselves up at "inconvenient" locations... blocking sidewalks/pedestrian walkways, etc...

3:16PM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

I think that the issue is location rather than sheer numbers. As Melanie M. and many other people have mentioned, there are places that truly NEED farmers' markets and farm stands. "Food deserts," such as inner cities and even many rural areas are important places to sell produce, but, in truth, most farmers figure that they will do better economically in larger settings or more affluent areas. This is because, traditionally, that is where the market it: people who have the money and time and energy to go to the market and spend. But it doesn't have to be that way at all. There are many other market spaces available.

I am a farmer who runs a farm stand in rural Northern New Mexico. In fact, I helped start a very small-scale farmers' market in our local area. We are a small farm, but we produce enough that we could easily participate in the larger-scale farmers' market in Taos (the nearest town of any size.) However, we deliberately chose to create our market and sell our veggies in Arroyo Hondo, our small community of less than 600 people. Yes, we also draw from the neighboring communities, but most of them are even smaller.

Why did we do this? Well, mostly because Arroyo Hondo no real grocery store, and is about eleven miles from Taos. Yes, we have a small store (that actually does sell organic, seasonal produce), but even people in rural areas deserve to have a market. Our farm invited other local farmers (and artists and craftspeople) to join in a Wednesday market

3:08PM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

i love farmers' markets.

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