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. Approximately 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.”
“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.
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.