By Mark Dattilio, SMADC Intern

It’s day break on a Saturday morning and I pull into a parking lot on the corner of Riva

Mark Dattilio asking customers to take the survey at a farmers market

Road and Harry S. Truman Parkway in Annapolis, MD. While most individuals are still in bed, I found myself fortunate to be part of a select few who are preparing for a busy day at the Anne Arundel Farmers Market. But unlike most of the vendors, I wasn’t there to sell any product. I was there to conduct a survey of the farm market.

We have all heard the numerous claims about the benefits of buying from local farmers. One often cited reason is that by supporting our local farmers, we have a positive impact on our region’s economy. But we don’t always know if these statements have any proof to support them. My goal at the Anne Arundel Farmers Market was to validate or refute these claims and help us here at SMADC to get a better understanding of the economic benefits of farmers markets.

As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I knew I  stuck out like a sore thumb. While all the vendors were unloading their trucks full of produce, meats, cheeses, jewelry and baked goods, I was unloading large flip charts and tripods from my black mid-sized car. But in the neighborly spirit that almost all farmers have, those who were already set up offered to help me and were very friendly to this outsider coming in and disturbing the flow of their market.

As the market start time approached, I began getting my ducks in a row, or questions I should say. The questions were written on the top of large flip charts and had multiple choice answers written in a grid below them. “How much have you or will you spend at the market today? $0, $5, $10, $20…”. “Does shopping at this market cause you to shop at neighboring business or restaurants more often? Yes or no”. “Was this market your primary reason for coming “downtown” this morning? Yes or no”.

As the bell rang signifying the start of the market, I grabbed my tabs of dot stickers and waited for the first person to walk by.
“Good morning ma’am, do you have a second to help out the market”.
“How can I help the market?’ she said.
“We are doing a quick survey of the shoppers and all you have to do is take these dots and put a sticker on the charts to answer the questions. It’ll take no more than 20 seconds, I promise.”
18 seconds later…
“Well, that was easy.”
“I told ya,’ twenty seconds. Thank you ma’am, I really appreciate it, you have a good day.”

One down, as many as possible to go. This was the normal interaction I’d have with the

Customers participating in the market survey. Mark (green shirt) is inviting others to participate.

shoppers at the market, but there were certainly exceptions. Some came up and asked me for stickers while others would not acknowledge my existence. But I was pleasantly surprised at how willing most people were to do the survey. The most enthusiatic participants were always mothers with kids, cause what kid doesn’t want to play with stickers. The hardest part about the whole thing was trying to convince people that I wasn’t selling them anything or asking for money.

This bar graph combines the results of the five market surveys.

As the day went on and my sheets began looking like pointillist paintings, I would periodically change to fresh sheets to prevent bias in the answers. At the same time, my coworkers were heading to the entrances to get attendance counts every hour for a twenty minute time period, so that we could get a fairly accurate estimate of attendance throughout the day. The bar graph (to the left) tells us that the average customer spent $20 to $30 dollars at the farmers markets. By coupling the attendance numbers at each market with the average amount of money each costumer spent, we were able to estimate the total impact on the region’s economy for the markets surveyed on a single day.  By doing the survey multiple times throughout a season, and/or over the years, we can gauge  the economic impact of farmers’ markets.

I surveyed five farmers markets, one in each of the counties of Southern Maryland (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Prince Georges and St. Mary’s). I received the same warm welcome from both the market sellers and the shoppers at every market I surveyed. Thanks to their cooperation, I am able to help both SMADC and the markets understand the tangible value of these fresh food havens. A final report will be submitted to the SMADC Board in October.

One conclusion is quite evident. Customers love their markets and direct-to-customers sales are alive and well.