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Selling local products through food hubs: new Maryland report

Selling local products through food hubs: new Maryland report

wallacecenterreport

This blog is the second in a two-part series on selling farm products through outside distribution channels like food hubs (read the first blog here). The Wallace Center recently released a new report on Maryland Food Hubs. The Wallace CUSdemandforlocalfood_wallacecenterreportenter partnered with SMADC on the report, looking at research SMADC has undertaken in the past few years on Maryland food hubs (existing and emerging), and the knowledge the Wallace Center has built around food hub and food system work at the national level. The report focuses on the opportunities and challenges for Maryland food hubs, both existing and emerging.

Listed, are five challenges facing Maryland Food Hubs, two and four are good for Maryland farmers to keep in mind:.

  1. Access to capital
  2. Access to adequate supply
  3. managing pricing, sales, and growth
  4. Food safety and regulated markets
  5. Balancing margin and mission

Farmers have an advantage on the market right now, there is more demand for local products in Maryland through food hubs than there is supply. Farmers are also being faced with more regulations with regards to food safety. The report outlines more information for Maryland farmers to take note of. Transparency is also important. Make sure your products are labeled/tracked through the whole distribution chain and that hubs are accurately promoting your farm and products.

Since food hubs are not “one size fits all” models, The report showcases Local Spotlight sections each highlighting the existing Maryland food hub models. Farmer owned cooperatives who serve a tight geographic region (Garrett Growers), a for profit business buying in from farms within a broader region (Friends and Farms), and a business connecting chefs and farmers through an online ordering system and delivery model (Chesapeake Farm to Table). We recently had the chance to tour to Friends andWallacecenterreportmarylandsector Farms and the nearby Maryland Food Center Authority, and we are hoping to tour of Chesapeake Farm to Table this summer. If you are interested in attending let us know (pwentworth@smadc.com) and we’ll be sure to put you on the mailing list for updates.

 

The full report and more information can be found on SMADC’s website here.

 

Selling local farm products through food hubs- new national report

Selling local farm products through food hubs- new national report

msu

This blog is the first in a two-part series on selling local farm products through outside distribution channels like food hubs. This week, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, along with The Wallace Center, released the 2015 National Food Hub Survey findings, which indicates that the food hub model can be financially successful across a variety of legal structures and geographic or customer markets.national_food_hub_survey_2015

Food hubs are businesses that aggregate and distribute source-identified food products, i.e. food that carries it’s farm name through the supply chain. As consumer interest in local and regional foods grows, the market for food hub services also grows. The findings of this report, together with the 2013 National Food Hub Survey, are the beginning of a data set that tracks what food hubs look like and what impacts they are having across the United States. What I found of most importance in the findings is that, 90% of food hubs who responded are increasing market access for small and medium farms as part of their daily operations. With many small farms judgling off-farm jobs and limited budgets, this is good news for those who are trying to be a farmer, a marketer, and a distributor.

National Food Hub Findings
Snapshot of key findings. Click to expand text.

“Food hubs bring great opportunity, but they face unique challenges that will require investment and innovation to overcome,” said Dr. John Fisk, Director of the Wallace Center at Winrock International. Some challenges food hubs face include: 1) securing capital, 2) securing more products, and 3) responding to opportunity to grow. More than 50% of hubs are concerned about securing more supply – and growth could be a liability for at least 40% of hubs because of barriers to adequate capital and limited delivery, warehouse and staff capacity. The full report is available online, as well as a webinar recording of key findings.

We will cover the challenges and opportunities specific to the Maryland region (based on a second new report!) in the next two posts for this series.

If you’re interested in learning more about food hubs and how they are operating in Maryland, I encourage you to join us next week at Friends and Farms in Columbia, Maryland for a tour of their food hub, and a short discussion with the Wallace Center. Email me at pwentworth@smadc.com to learn more.

Farmer to Farmer Education: New podcast is an invaluable resource

Farmer to Farmer Education: New podcast is an invaluable resource

Uninterrupted downtime is difficult to find! Everything else usually gets shoved to the back-burner at the height of the season. However, a new podcast series called the Farmer to Farmer Podcast connects with farmers on the go. The show is for farmers, by farmers, and is hosted by Chris Blanchard, a veteran farmer and educator combining 25 years of experience to get at the big ideas and practical details that go into making a farm work.  Each week Chris interviews an experienced farmer on a new topic.SMADC

Wait, what’s a podcast?

Chris explains in detail here, but podcasts are basically an online radio program that can be listened to (and paused, rewound, replayed) anytime.  You can listen while working on the farm or while driving. You can listen directly from the website or subscribe to it from a mobile device through iTunes Podcasts or Stitcher (for Android users).

I’ve heard farmers say that they listen to it while on the tractor and during their commute to market or an off-farm job, and others say it’s helped pass the time while weeding. While we are always on the go or have our hands tied, it’s nice to be able to listen in without changing up our routine.

There’s something for everyone

SMADC blog

The podcast covers all aspects of farming, no matter what stage or scale you are at. Topics include managing employees,  leadership lessons, new approaches in farming, creating diversified markets, and reflection on things we can all relate to–it is a fresh and honest look at farming today.
One of my favorite episodes, Balancing Off-Farm Jobs with a Full-Time Farm, discusses feeling the pressure to keep and enjoy off-farm jobs, taking the time to scale up slowly as the market opportunities present themselves, things many farmers may relate to.

Tuning in

Work on the farm is usually unplugged from technology, and it seems that is what so many of us enjoy most.  But if you find yourself in need of a new approach or some encouragement, find some time for this podcast, and tune in with others in the farm community, which can be rewarding too.

Using resources and maximizing efficiency is important to profitability in this industry. So try out the podcast next time you’re alone on the tractor, weeding, or driving to market!

 

Chefs and Farmers Initiative Creates Movement

Chefs and Farmers Initiative Creates Movement

Across the country there is momentum to bring more local food to restaurants. Recently we wrote a blog on upcoming trends for restaurants where locally-sourced foods topped the charts for yet another year. Innovate solutions are popping up everywhere in the Chesapeake region too. However, farmers and chefs are busy people who are usually running in two separate directions. So how do local restaurants find all these wonderful farms, and how do farmers make connections to new chefs?

Southern Maryland Chef and Farmer Events

Over the winter of 2015, local catering company Herrington on the Bay, invited chefs and farmers from the Herring Bay region to come together over lunch in order to tackle this question. Herrington organized the meeting, reaching out to local agriculture organizations like SMADC and AAEDC for lists of farmers in their area who sell wholesale and chefs who are interested in local products. Ideas were shared, new connections were made, and a Facebook group was created to allow for transactions to begin to take place. As the year went on, both parties realized that more had to happen to take this concept to the next level.

Herrington Purpose, Mission, Vision for the group
Guiding  principles for the group.

Over the winter of 2016, just a few weeks ago, Herrington hosted a second event, expanding to include a wider reach of producers (including meat, dairy, and produce) and chefs. Around 50 attendees showed up to hear from Anna Chaney, owner and operator of Herrington and Honey’s Harvest Farm, about plans to get more local food on to more local plates. Chefs and farmers are busy people so to have them in the room together was an accomplishment in itself!

Additionally, Chesapeake Farm 2 Table (CF2T) was invited to demonstrate the distribution model they’ve come up with for Baltimore. Becky (owner and operator) and Audrey (general manager) of CF2T laid out for the group what was needed to start their operation:

  • A network of member farmers and chefs wiling to participate
  • An online ordering system that handles multiple farms products and chefs payments (additionally farmers and chefs can do payment offline)
  • A coordinator to receive food to one location (the Hub). Farmers drop the food off in clear plastic bags (vs. crates or other materials) since they will not be returned
  • A vehicle and a driver to deliver to Baltimore restaurants

What’s next for Southern Maryland?

The conversation was buzzing as people mingled, many meeting for the first time, learning about each other and exchanging contact information. Relationship and trust building, from year to year, and a networking group is invaluable!

Local Food Featured At MD Chef/Farmer Event
The kinds of meals we were conspiring to create were also in supply at the event.

The group concurred that this was something needed to benefit the region. There are still many pieces of the puzzle to solve. Who will run it? Can it be run as a pilot program for the region? The intent is to get better food on the table, but it also has to pay the bills for both sides. The group must be willing to work together in some capacity so that a 50 mile transportation radius (likely for our rural area)  isn’t so onerous (for example, maybe a farmer brings product to a central drop point where the van can pick it up). In essence, have more people driving 15 miles vs. 50. And as Anna said during the meeting, “if we all give a little, we can get a lot.” And there are some leaders who’ve already stepped up to the plate to put these pieces together!

Keeping a Regional Perspective

It is imperative that we create synergies across the region to increase local food supply, and profitability for farmers. That’s why it was fantastic that CF2T came down to meet the group, and why SMADC has been happy to lead the efforts to bring the Maryland food hubs (emerging and established) together a few times a year. CF2T said they enjoyed getting to know their neighbors to the south and they were excited to see what’s next for local food sourcing in southern Maryland! We are too!

If you are interested learning more about these ongoing efforts, email us anytime at info@marylandfarmlink.com.

 

Kimchi to Charcuterie- Savvy marketing by local producers tickles consumers taste buds

Kimchi to Charcuterie- Savvy marketing by local producers tickles consumers taste buds

IMG_2228
MDA Secretary Joeseph Bartenfelder in attendance.

Every year Maryland Department of Agriculture holds a Buyer Grower Expo in Annapolis, providing a forum for farms and value-added producers to meet new potential buyers. In the last few years that SMADC has been going, we’ve seen the numbers in attendance continually rise- with now over 60 growers, processors,  watermen, and small food businesses attending from Maryland.

What was most impressive this year was the sheer variety of products available. Both from the farms that are growing them and from the producers who are processing Maryland grown food into an array of value-added products.

Creative Packaging

Especially appealing, was all the creative packaging. Selling, marketing and experiencing the Chesapeake grown oyster, for example, has reached new levels of refinement.  No longer distributed in boring boxes, they included bright and bold statements with catchy phasing like, “come unhinged!” (Madhouse Oysters) and “get cultured!” (Black Horse Oysters). Even the language used to describe the flavor of each oyster sounds like a wine tasting, “…Madhouse oysters start with salt…subtle, enough to enhance, not dominate…clean, firm meat yields a beautiful sweetness, like a first kiss. Memorable.”

hexferments
Photo by @hexferments getting ready for the Local Fair Fare in January where I had the chance to sample a bright purple kombucha drink, which I thought was colored with food dye but turned out to be a natural herbal flower.

This trendy, creative marketing is a common thread among the progressive food businesses showcased at the Expo. Popularity of fermented foods is increasing, once only for health food stores, is now becoming more widely available in the mainstream market. Farm Marketing has reached a new level of sophistication. With colorful branding, and appealing tag-lines to excite the taste buds.
Value-added fermented foods like sauerkrauts, kimchis, and kombuchas (in varrying flavors and pops of colors) come in brightly colored packaging that jumps out at you from the stand. Speaking not just from the health perspective but also a delicious food and condiment option, these producers are taking fresh Maryland-grown produce and transforming it into value-added products to spice up everyday dishes.

IMG_2233
Michelle’s Microgreens on display for chefs.

Produce farmers differentiate themselves

From hydroponics to farms specializing in gourmet garlic only, and sprouts, with great attention paid to the detail of presenting the product in an attractive and appealing way, like Michelle’s Mircogreens (pictured left) with 8 different types of sprouts, a shelf life of 2 weeks, and ready to be used as needed to decorate and maintain the flavor of fresh dishes by chefs. Several young wholesale farmers were in attendance, stepping up to the family plate, including Miller, Shlagel, and Swann farms. They represent the next generation of farmers who are increasing their outreach to larger wholesale markets such as major grocery chains and schools.

Locally cured meats & quail eggs

Meats were also well represented with small farm enterprises such as Cabin Creek Heritage Farm, who recently diversified into quail production for quail eggs. And meat and poultry producers seeking larger clients.  The American palate has had a longstanding love affair with Charcuterie. It has been difficult however, to find locally produced processed meats in Maryland. Enter: Meat Crafters, a new start-up in Landover, Maryland producing a full line line of specialty hand-made charcuterie meats in small batches. They offer an opportunity to custom pack for the local farmer, and they are USDA inspected for beef pork and poultry.

A good bang for your buck!

meat
Meat Crafters Charcuterie Display at the Expo

The average cost of an expo table at a big event is usually $100 or more, but for $20 a table, the Maryland Buyer-Grower Expo is well worth the fee if you are are a farm or value-added business looking for new buyers. Maryland and regional buyers are well represented, and many have the Expo on their calendars well in advance, year after year. We commend the publication MDA produces for the event, which is also available online. The directory includes names and addresses of buyers represented at the Expo for contact throughout the year. We’ve already heard of some new follow-up connections that were made after the Expo.

 

 

 

Saving Family Farms in Maryland

Saving Family Farms in Maryland

photo5 (2)This week sure is the week of farm conferences and events!  We will report on some of them in the coming weeks, but this week we’ve revived a series of posts on “Saving family farms in Maryland”. The series addresses many of the challenges and opportunities we face in farming in Maryland, and will likely continue to face. Perhaps with a look back at them we can charge ourselves with a few new tasks as we make our way into the new year.

  1. Saving family farms in Maryland – access to land This post includes information about FarmLINK’s Property Exchange and other free resources like zoning maps and land preservation easements, as well as improving communication between young and beginning farmers and retired farm owners.
  2. Saving family farms in Maryland – infrastructure solutions Beginning farmers often have difficulty finding land that also has the infrastructure amenities they need. In this post common infrastructure needs are covered like water, fencing, housing (tiny house information included), and lease agreements.
  3. Saving family farms in Maryland – the right regulatory environment To dispel any hope of simplicity, no county zoning regulations are the same. Each is patterned to address citizen concerns, etc. but a table and links are offered in this post to help farmers sell value-added farm products and with agri-tourism uses.
  4. Saving family farms in Maryland – level access to markets How to create a level access to markets is the topic of this last blog which offers why consumers are demanding more local food and helpful solutions to obtaining access for farmers to sell in more places.

 

Diversity is Strength, Unity is Power

Diversity is Strength, Unity is Power

Earlier this week, I attended a listening session for a new business that recently formed, Grow and Fortify. Their motive is to help farmers around the state understand and conquer the barriers that make it difficult for Maryland farms to grow and expand their enterprises. They are tackling topics like value-added agriculture, and defining the ambiguous definition of agritourism in effort to help farms grow and expand. The legislative and regulatory process at the national, state and local levels prove to be complex, and not always defined for agriculture and food enterprises. Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups have provided their support to Grow and Fortify, as they see this is an area of need.growandfortify

The small team (bios), though new to working together under Grow and Fortify, have had many years of combined experience and have worked at the local, state, and federal level on agriculture, food, and beverage issues. They are now making their rounds about the state, hearing from farmers, ag agencies, nonprofits, and counties, to gauge the need and interest in their expertise.

At the Southern Maryland meeting, attendees brought up the need for changes to more uniform codes in local county departments, and with fire marshalls, and health permitting laws at the state level. Examples were provided about counties that have successfully changed some regulations, such as St. Mary’s county who worked with the health department and SMADC to implement guidelines for meat, jams, and jellies (value-added products) to help expand farm business offerings. Attendees felt that sharing and replicating the changes one county makes into other counties would be helpful. Food sampling at farmers markets, festivals, and fairs was also brought to light as a challenge. For example, an aquaculture farm in St. Mary’s county could not sell his oysters at a recent Baltimore County festival because he only had a permit from St. Mary’s County, even though the counties pull from the same state code. In this instance, it would be less time consuming and costly for the fargrowandfortify1m to receive one license from the state for food sampling.

What is needed at the state level? What are good examples of success? Who out there is having trouble, and what are the unique challenges you’re facing? 

The standalone service sounds like it is already making headway at answering some of these questions.

If you are interested in more information, Grow and Fortify has additional listening sessions scheduled around the state in December and January, including one in Annapolis next week. They have made themselves easily accessible, as they want to hear from as many Maryland farms as possible on their specific needs for value-added agriculture.

 

Maryland FarmLINK continues to gain ground building connections for the region

Maryland FarmLINK continues to gain ground building connections for the region

As we move into fall, it marks a good time to look back and reflect, as Maryland FarmLINK just finished the year-end report. FarmLINK helps aspiring farmers locate farmland and find mentors and partners. FarmLINK provides a forum for all farmers to exchange and ask questions, and provides information such as where to find equipment for rent, workshops, land, and general farming news. The popularity of the website continues to grow with visits to the site increasing 134%, to 124,000 in FY’15 and we are thrilled to see so many farmers engaging. We believe that many farmers and local food producers are using FarmLINK as their main resource for updates and information in Maryland.

This is important because within the next 20 years, 75% of the Maryland’s farmland will change hands. The average age of a principal farmer in Maryland is 59 and the average age of the former tobacco farmers is well into the 70s. Add to that, less than 5% of Maryland farmers are under 35 years of age. If we want to continue to build upon local food systems, we must help to grow the growers.

Growing new farmers

Couple farmers, Ross and Leah, article about the mentor match program. (Click to view article)

Access to land remains a top concern, as land values in Maryland are nearly three times the national average. Also, most farmland offered for sale is sold through a realtor, but realtors are not always familiar with the unique characteristics of selling farmland, and may not be not aware that FarmLINK exists. Many beginning farmers consider leasing farmland to be the most feasible way to start. This past year, we were happy to see several new farmers make leasing arrangements through FarmLINK. Our hope is to connect all types of farms:  large-scale farm operators, hobby farmers and beginning farmers looking for their first farm to lease or own.

Furthermore, new farmers who did not grow up on a farm lack access to experienced farmers who can act as mentors. FarmLINK’s Mentor Match program pairs experienced farmers (mentors) with new or transitioning farm owners/operators (mentees) for one-on-one training, advice and interaction. To date, over 46 applications have been received and 17 matches have been formalized.

A recent example, is a couple who signed up for FarmLINK for the property exchange and mentor program. They stated their specifications and were then linked up with Yates Clagett, a Prince George’s County cattle grazier, who had a vacant tenant house and a few small fields that had been laying fallow since the days of growing tobacco.
The mentor program will continue for the southern Maryland region in 2016, you can sign up here. In efforts to foster continual learning, FarmLINK is excited to announce a developing series of mentee profiles, which will be showcased online in October.

Outreach to all Maryland farmers

FarmLINK maintains a current calendar of upcoming seminars, workshops and other educational opportunities around the region which averages 30-50 listings at any time.  in 2015 staff expanded on the resource section which provides tutorials on soil analysis, planning and zoning information, farm equipment for rent, a guide to acidified foods, a realtor guide (and list of realtors familiar with selling farmland), and others.

The blog continues to receive 3,000 to 9,000 views per month. The Facebook page is growing as a news source and a place for people to communicate real time (viewers increased 60% in 2015). The Twitter feed posts the top tweets per week on current farming stories and events around the state and country (increased by over 100 followers this year). The Weekly Roundup is sent by email on Friday morning and highlights the best of the week on FarmLINK (over 1500 subscribers, you can sign up here).

 

Maryland FarmLINK is gaining traction as a web tool and resource to help farmers get access to land or expand their operation. As we’ve mentioned before, a website is just a tool—but it can be an important vehicle that leads to one of the largest investments a farmer makes—his/her land and farm operation. The support of many has been critical to building the capacity of farmers in the region and strengthening networks to improve success. There is still much work to be done, but the future of farming has a chance in this region— we must keep it alive!

 

Interview: Farmer, Susie Hance-Wells, Part 2

Interview: Farmer, Susie Hance-Wells, Part 2

As part of the weekly blog post series, Maryland FarmLINK will begin to feature an interview with a farmer or local food advocate occasionally.

The first interview is with Susie Hance-Wells of Taney Place farm in Calvert County. The farm recently started a new retail venture called Battle Creek Beef. In Part 1, Susie discussed the farm operation, and tips for new and beginning farmers. In Part 2 below, she discusses her perspective on creating a better food system and the role of agriculture in local communities.

Maryland FarmLINK: How does your farm contribute to creating a better food system?

Susie: Those of us who were born and raised on farms ate natural foods, and I think we took that for granted. We had our mother and grandmother’s canning all summer long with no preservatives, additives or dyes in our food. We cured and smokeBCB15d our own meat. We were sustainable and ate very well. Today, you have so much packaged food, and I do believe that affects us. You are always going to need the large producers. They can do it in a more economical way than say we can here, but we need to be able to offer the natural foods that so many of us were once fortunate enough to grow up with. We need the packaging industry to do a better job by adding less preservatives and additives. Consumers are beginning to ask for change.

Maryland FarmLINK: You have had a significant role in the agriculture community as a whole. Can you tell us more about that experience?

Susie: I’ve participated in many boards and committees. My dad encouraged us to be community involved, especially where agriculture is concerned. Agriculture did not have a loud voice for a while, and it was getting softer as more kids left the farm and didn’t come back. Another thing he taught me, which I really appreciate, was to look for what is good for everybody, not just what is good for yourself. When you get involved (with boards and committees), and promote certain things, it is not necessarily what you or your farm can take advantage of, but what is important is agriculture as a whole and the community as a whole. We have a completely different type of farmer emerging now. People need another job to be able to make it on the farm which restricts them to go testify on bills and be involved in agricultural meetings. We need to find a way to make it work better for them too. It is hard sometimes for us traditional farmers to accept the new age farmer. However, I think if we sit down and talk, we could learn a lot from each other.

Maryland FarmLINK: What is a project, program, or result you are most proud of as a farmer or as an agricultural advocate?

Susie: One of the big things I feel good about is from the very start, and still today, I have been involved in the agricultural preservation program in Calvert County.  I’m proud of my county for the support of the agriculture preservation program.  We also put our money where our mouth is and put our own farm into permanent preservation. Agriculture preservation in this area of the coCaptureuntry, and the East Coast, is important. If you don’t have the land to produce your food sources near your cities and near your towns you become very vulnerable. You don’t want to concentrate all your agricultural production in just certain areas of a country, or even within a state. It should be balanced. We are starting to see that happen more with the local food movement.

Maryland FarmLINK: If you could go back and start all over again, would you do anything differently? Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Susie: Ultimately, everything I did brought me to where I am now. And I’m in a good place right now. So I don’t think I would do anything differently. I learned a lot, made a lot of mistakes, and became a better manager because of those mistakes. I have loved being involved in regulations. Sometimes it is very frustrating, and recently it seems the farmer is the bad guy, but we’re not doing anything differently. The perception has been more negative that I have ever seen. However, the local food movement, buying local, is improving that.

If I was just starting out as a young farmer I would have the whole supply of a CSA- high tunnels and maybe have a greenhouse. People could come here and buy their sausage and eggs for their breakfast, vegetables, and whole wheat for their bread. Like an old McDonald farm. I get bored just doing one thing all the time and enjoy taking care of different types of livestock.

 

 

 

 

Feeding the Foodshed

Feeding the Foodshed

8.13.15

It’s August and it’s hot, and this year in particular there has been a lot of rain. Yet many of our local farmers, from vegetable and fruit producers to meat and dairy farms, are working hard to bring enough to market. Last week was National Farmers Market week, and Maryland farmers showed up to share the fruits of their labor with the locals. And locals showed up to purchase it! The bounty, spread out in vast array this time of year, is not only a symbol of how we can live healthier lives and eat a variety of food close to home- it’s a symbol of community. Community coming together to produce for each other and community coming together to purchase from each other.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Marketing Service Administrator Anne L. Alonzo recently announced the results of the 2014 Farmers Market Manager Survey. 8.13.15FeedingtheFoodshedApproximately 1,400 farmers market managers nationwide were surveyed and the results show that farmers markets are growing. “There are over 8,400 farmers markets in USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, and this survey shows that they are thriving and expanding as they provide healthy, local fresh fruit and vegetables to America’s families,” said Alonzo. “The survey will help market managers continue to succeed by giving them a better understanding of the local foods marketplace.” The national survey identified some compelling trends such as increased customer traffic, market managers looking for more vendors, a strong organic presence, and more.

What’s Happening Locally?

In Maryland it seems the farmers markets are seeing similar trends. Shelby Watson Hampton, Agricultural Marketing Specialist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture stated that, “Maryland is diverse, and every market is different, but this year what we’ve seen is that overall attendance is the same if not a little bit more.” She also said there has been a steady number of Maryland Department of Agriculture recognized farmers markets for the past three to four years. “Maryland currently has over 140 vibrant and flourishing farmers markets that are spread out over all 23 counties and Baltimore City.”

8.13.15FeedingtheFoodshed
A recent summer morning at the California Farmers Market in St. Mary’s County.

“These local markets are beneficial to their communities in may ways: they provide consumers with the opportunity to purchase fresh and local products, they increase communication between farmers and customers which helps develop a bond of trust between producer and consumer, and they serve as an important community gathering place where urban, suburban, and rural communities come together,” said Shelby.

And it sounds like the overall farmers market trends tend to be up in Southern Maryland too. Stacy Wilkerson, market manager for North Beach farmers market in Calvert County, said the market is seeing an increase in customers, an increase in vendors (with 20 farmers this season), and phone calls daily from interested new vendors. Stacy also noted that many restaurants have formed relationships with the vendors. In St. Mary’s County, the California Farmers Market manager and local produce farmer David Paulk reported something similar.  “The market is seeing a steady customer base that comes each week April through November”, said David. He also mentioned that number of farm vendors is growing.

8.13.15FeedingtheFoodshed
At the Riverdale Park farmers market last week folks filled out market surveys at SMADC tent.

Cia Morey, administrator at SMADC, attended the evening Riverdale Park Farmers Market in Prince George’s County last week to survey vendors and consumers and reported back that it’s a wonderful weekday evening market in an urban setting that has several farm vendors. The market also has prepared food vendors to take advantage of patrons picking up dinner as they shop for their weekly supply of local vegetables. Over 84% of the respondents of the survey indicated that they were specifically coming out to shop at the market that evening, and the average amount spent per buyer was just under $20. The market has excellent community and town support as they have provided a dedicated market manager and over many years this market has become a strong pillar of the town.

We have heard that sales tend to fluctuate at farmers markets, but that farmers still find markets to be important to meeting new customers, building relationships with them, and helping customers understand what it takes to grow the food they are feeding their families with. And working at a market myself, I see how getting together at the markets builds stronger communities.

For more information on regional farmers markets, or to get in touch about becoming a vendor, visit the Washington Post’s listing of regional farmers markets.

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