Farmers’ Markets & Local Veggies: Buying, Selling, & Adding Personal Touches Could Help Farmers’ Sales
Posted By Vicki McClure Davidson on September 28, 2010
My daughter, a vegetarian, and I love prowling our local farmers’ markets on weekends for unusual vegetables. Most are closed down during the summer through early fall in Arizona because of the heat, so I’m having withdrawals about now. I’ve been hankering for those off-the-beaten-path vegetables that the local supermarkets don’t dare carry. Or if they do, they cost twice as much and the younger sales clerks usually aren’t sure what they are when ringing them up (that’s a rutabaga, darlin’, not radicchio).
None of my local grocery stores carry my beloved fingerling potatoes, so I’m revved to snatch them at my farmers’ market first thing in October. My daughter and I use them in an Irish roasted vegetable dish that my husband and son adore.
We’ve also both dabbled at growing our own herbs and vegetables in the backyard to defray our family’s food bill and for the sheer fun of it (interesting article here: Planet Green, Farming Helps Iraq and Afghanistan Vets Heal). We’ve had great luck with growing basil, peppers, butter lettuces, carrots, broccoli, and parsley. Not such great luck with the cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, and garlic. We’ll keep trying.
Intriguing article here about adding a “personal touch” with selling local produce at farmers’ markets… a savvy marketing idea that could work:
From Planet Green, Who Picked Your Veggies? Using Packaging to Recognize the Farmer:
Would you feel more connected to your food if it came with a picture of the person who produced it? Inspired to buy more local produce if you could see a real connection with the people, rather than tractors, who cared for and harvested it?
That’s the great idea a man in Bangladesh has: to recognize the farmers and share their personal stories in the packaging of the vegetables they worked to produce.
A lot of fair trade crafts already do this—include a tag or card describing the place where it was made, the person who made it, or showing just a signature of the woman (or man) who wove the basket, strung the beads of a necklace, or put whatever finishing touches were required to complete the piece that the customer is driven to buy.
The idea hasn’t taken off for vegetables yet, but it seems like it has huge potential not only in Bangladesh, but worldwide.
Would people shopping in a supermarket be more dedicated to choosing local produce over, say, Dole lettuce—even if it costs a little more—if they can see who produced it?
Some farmers’ market news story links and links to sites that kick around ideas for those who are thinking about earning some extra money by dabbling in selling produce or other goods or services at farmers’ markets, art or trade fairs — also frugal, money-saving shopping tips:
GardenWeb Forum: Farmers’ Market Ideas
The Daily Californian: Farmers’ Market Tries New Approach
Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets: Promotional Ideas for Farmers’ Markets
Alaska Dispatch: Alaskan farmers and ranchers are the real thing
Harrison [NY] Patch: Three Square Meals, Farmers Market Style
More farmers’ market info in the news this week — from Huffington Post, Chaos in the Farmers’ Market:
This story in the Wall Street Journal about a farmers’ market debate that is raging (can anything really rage at a farmers’ market?) in Wisconsin and across the country reminds me how much is wrong with how we choose our food. It reports that even our best alternative to supermarkets, our closest approximation to traceability in our food supply, can’t provide us the assurances we ask of it. Meanwhile, some half-cocked ideas are floating around about how to make farmers’ markets stricter, less accessible, and heavier on bureaucracy and process.
Who needs more of that, especially farmers? Cross checking seed receipts to verify that a farmer grew what he is peddling, inspecting farms to make sure they’re growing what they said they were, lots of pencil and paper work overseen by resource-constrained market managers? How in the world can this be the extent of our food alternatives? There must be a better way to get the comfort we receive from believing that a real farmer grew real food that we browse while a country music cover band takes us back to another time, when people had no choice but to farm.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must say that I shop at my neighborhood’s Saturday market when I can. But I don’t enjoy it for anything but the outcome: a great selection of fresh foods in which I have a higher degree of confidence than I do in food I get from the grocery store. I think the farmers’ market is just about the least efficient way to get our food (and research from Cornell Cooperative Extension suggests that it is just about the least efficient way to sell food, too), much less gain transparency into how that food was produced. If you’re lucky, you’ll actually get to talk to the farmer when you show up at the farm stand. But if the farmer is successful, she will be selling at multiple markets on the same Saturday morning, reducing your chances of meeting the woman with the dirt under her fingers. If she’s really successful, her sunny day will be better spent on the farm.
At the heart of this debate are questions about what a farmers’ market should be, what it turns out to be, and who gets to decide. For some, it’s about community, an opportunity to socialize with neighbors and farmers. For others, both buyers and sellers, it is business. Still, direct sales of food from farmer to consumer represented just 1.1 percent of food purchases in the U.S. in 2009.
Some farmers that sell at markets do gain a lot from interacting with customers. They hear about what people like, what they don’t, how they’re using the produce. They get some satisfaction from meeting their loyal customers, from educating people new to the market and from spending time with peer farmers. Is there a way to retain the good in farmers’ markets — the community, the interaction, the access to an array of (what we think is) farms’ fresh produce — but gain insight into the authenticity and quality of farms and food, the mystery of which has caused this Wisconsin tiff?
The farmers’ market fills a true need that is underscored by data from the USDA that shows the number of markets in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the last eight years. So, the market brings us something that nothing else does yet: an array of fresh, whole food the source of which we generally trust; a choice in what quantities and assortment of that food we want; direct contact between farms and consumers. I spend my days thinking about a better way to accomplish this, but for now, I’ll take what I can get.