November/December – 2002
Story Title: The New Face of Old MacDonald – Part 1. Farmers’ Markets
by: CHRISTINE PAUL
Growing in number and popularity, Farmers’ Markets represent an alternative to the growing domination of our food supply by supermarket chains. Their re-emergence signals not only new ‘value-added’ opportunities for farmers in today’s marketplace, but also a shift in our economic system to one of decentralised marketing.
A Farmers’ Market is defined as one where farmers, growers or producers from a defined local area are present in A person selling their own produce, direct to the public. Generally, it is accepted that all products sold should have been grown, reared, caught, brewed, pickled, baked, smoked or processed by stall-holders themselves.
The idea is simple. People who grow and harvest produce sell directly to the buyer. Farmer’s Markets are places where the farmers, the people who actually grow, harvest or make the food are able to directly sell to the consumer without need for middlemen or advertising. In effect, they represent a direct channel of distribution.
Farmers’ Markets: History and Overview
Farmers’ Markets are as old as commerce itself. Records survive from early Mesopotamian civilisations where public marketplaces were a prominent feature of communities, playing a pivotal role in the development of the country’s overall economy. Farmers would haul their produce from outlying areas into the population centres where they would market it, engaging in lively haggling and bartering.
Much later in Europe,based on the Roman code of law, governments sought to protect the consumer from high food prices and to regulate health standards by establishing public markets.
During Medieval times, most villages and towns held weekly markets where people came to sell not only their foodstuffs, but also handicrafts. The absence of factories and few ships to trade abroad meant that wealth came solely from the land and from selling what the land produced.
Despite fluctuating public demand for agricultural and nonagricultural products over time, Farmers’ Markets have survived many centuries. Initially formed as informal gathering places where farmers could provide food to the local community, they grew in size and popularity, requiring the development of more permanent structures to accommodate them.
By the end of the 19th century, however, this popularity had declined as a result of a changing society. With the advent of industrialisation, improvements in transportation and growth of urban areas, enabled neighbourhood grocery stores to become the source of food supply. This decline in the importance of Farmers’ Markets was also hastened by agricultural specialisation.
At the same time, Farmers’ Markets were common in many cities in the US. The City of New Orleans in particular, operated more markets and for much longer than the rest of the nation’s cities. Large numbers of immigrants relied on Farmers’ Markets as an entry point into the economy as small-scale entrepreneurs. New Orleans shoppers thronged to these colourful markets where stall rents were low and the produce wide and varied -everything from cheese, fish, green groceries, meats, baked produce and more exotic offerings such as calas tout chauds (fried pancakes) and file powder (for gumbo). Many of the city’s current corner grocery stores and food processors trace their beginnings to stalls at these Farmers’ Markets.
Following the Depression,when the market system had begun to fall into disrepair, the City of New Orleans began a program of privatisation. This, together with significant demographic shifts to the suburbs, meant that the markets lost their customers first, then their vendors, with only remnants remaining of their original infrastructure.
What’s behind the re-emergence of Farmers’ Markets?
Consumers worldwide are rediscovering the benefits of buying locally grown food. Generally, it’s fresher than anything in the supermarket and that means it’s tastier and more nutritious. Also it provides advantages in terms of supporting the local economy; buying directly from family farmers helps them stay in business. At Farmers’ Markets around the world, increasing numbers of growers are selling their products directly to consumers.
Direct Marketing as a Value-Added Opportunity for Agriculture
In the US, direct marketing of farm products through Farmers’ Markets continues to be an important sales outlet for agricultural producers nationwide. Now an integral part in the urban/farm linkage, Farmers’ Markets have continued to rise in popularity, mostly due to the growing consumer interest in obtaining fresh products directly from the farm. The number of Farmers’ Markets in the United States has grown dramatically, increasing during the period between 1994 to 2002 by 79%. According to the 2002 National Farmers’ Market Directory, there are now around 3,100 farmers mar kets operating in the US. This growth shows that Farmers’ Markets are providing for the needs of a growing number of small-to medium-size farming concerns.
As diminishing profit margins, increasing input costs and shrinking commodity prices beset agricultural producers, many are placing greater emphasis on using processing to “add value” to their products. According to John Ellerman, ag marketing specialist, Ohio State University,one of the advantages of using value-added enterprises in agriculture is that the benefits return to the producer,not the agribusiness processor. He further points out that direct marketing, viewed as one type of value-added opportunity for agriculture, “does not require substantial capital investments or additional business development … It fits into the urban development trends now occurring in Ohio and a consumer demand trend for healthy food products”. There is also, adds Ellerman, a growing interest in locally grown food with information available about where the food came from and how it was produced.
By selling their produce at a Farmers’ Market, vendors are engaging in direct marketing, controlling all aspects from the production process to the actual sale. Thus, the traditional “middleman” is bypassed leaving the grower/producer a return from between 40% to 80% on their product. Obviously, for farmers, selling at a Farmer’s Market means that the immediate advantage is price. Instead of being locked into the usual scenario where supermarket buyers may pay 5-20% of the final retail price for many vegetables to farmers, claiming distribution, packaging and marketing create the other costs, farmers can achieve a much more reasonable price for their produce.In turn, this has a flow-on effect, eradicating economic pressures that force many of them into the unsustainable use of land.
According to one recent US study,”direct marketing of agricultural products allows consumers to purchase competitively priced, high-quality fresh produce,while farmers view direct marketing as an alternative way to capture more of the consumers’ dollar.” For the farmer struggling to survive in a chain-dominated marketing system,direct marketing gives new hope for the future. Only a low capital investment is required and start-up is relatively easy. In summary, alternative marketing systems such as Farmers’
Markets can provide:
– regular income for the producer
– a reliable source of produce
– reduced transportation of food
– competitive prices for consumers,
– transfer of information about the supply, distribution and consumption of food to all levels of the food system,including information about seasonal demand, quality requirements, price responsiveness and varietal preferences etc.
Farmers’ Markets in the US
As we have seen,over the past decade in the US, Farmers’ Markets have undergone resurgence in popularity,due in part to their intrinsic ‘folksy image’. From the flamboyant,lively markets of California to the Amish Farmers’ Markets and the church markets in Atlanta, Georgia, each market is a reflection of its unique local heritage. Believe it or not,there are 28 year-round Farmers’ Markets throughout New York city itself, the largest and well-known of these is Union Square Farmers’ Market. “With over 1 million people visiting Farmers’ Markets in the US every week, and over 20,000 farmers selling their local produce, they are a definite success story”, says Harriet Festing from the University of London, Wye College, who recently spent five years researching and documenting this phenomena. Festing, author of Farmers’ Markets’ An American Success Story, travelled on a Winston Churchill Fellowship, visiting over 30 markets across the US. Her aim was to explore a wide range of markets, both small and large, in deprived urban and low-income settings as well as in wealthy rural communities. Festing’s work also targeted the US Farmers’
Market profile as a model for the UK in terms of providing facts and figures, and numerous case studies.
Topics covered in her book include: Who buys at Farmers Markets, and Why?; What are the best locations for a market?; How much funding is needed?; What are the attitudes of local shops and supermar kets?; and importantly, What makes a Farmers’ Market financially viable? According to a recent in-depth study in the US: “The reemergence of Farmers’ Markets reveals a shift in the economic system to decentralised marketing”. The key reasons behind this interest is that mar kets provide welcome additional income for local farmers, fresher and sometimes lower priced produce for consumers, and a social environment.
Additionally, by the provision of an environment where goods and services can be ‘test marketed’, Farmers’ Markets can act as an “incubator” for farm, food and cottage businesses as they establish themselves in the marketplace. Further,the market is seen as serving the community, generating new income by supporting local farmers, not large corporate farms. This is vital in the development of a relationship or alliance between the consumer and farmer.
Research has revealed that today’s consumer eats nearly 100% more fresh produce than in 1970. This statistic holds significant import in terms of providing new market opportunities for growers; changes like these in consumer lifestyle as well as the economy have contributed to a renewed interest in Farmers’ Markets.
Alberta Farmers’ Market
– A Case Study
Until supermarkets emerged in the 1930’s and 1940’s,farmers in Alberta, Canada, provided urban centres with produce. These days, Farmers’ Markets are flourishing there, with approximately 115 markets registered annually with the Alberta Agriculture Food and Rural Development (AAFRD). As elsewhere,the rationale underlying accelerated growth of Farmers’ Markets in Alberta is that more and more consumers are seeking fresh,quality products and the social atmosphere that only a market environment can provide.
In 2000, the Alberta Approved Farmers’ Market Program was set up with a mission “to create an operational framework that facilitates direct marketing access for community-based entrepreneurs who make, bake or grow the product they sell.” Key components of this innovative program include: basic operating guidelines; provincial program awareness initiatives; and the education of vendors, managers and consumers. Recently, the Program undertook a research initiative with the objective of identifying specific needs and concerns of vendors, consumers and market managers. This research took the form of a three-part questionnaire;one part for the vendors selling products at markets, one for the consumers patronising Alberta Farmers’ Markets, and one for the market managers. The population for this study comprised 120 Alberta Farmers’ Markets. Data were collected from vendors and consumers and all 120 market managers were mailed questionnaires.
While research showed that vendors at Farmers’ Markets increased their sales volume and net income, most received only a modest return, serving as an additional income source. Farmers demonstrated they were also able to gain valuable feedback from a diverse clientele at the markets so they could gain business experience, develop personal skills and achieve economic stability through the control of their marketing activities.As before, the ability to ‘test market’ new products was also a significant factor for vendors as they diversified their product range with value adding.
One of the most important findings was that consumers indicated a preference for Farmers’ Markets, which offered an alternative shopping experience. The primary reasons given by consumers shopping at Farmers’ Markets were the availability and variety of fresh produce, high quality food,price savings,and the social atmosphere. Many consumer responses indicated that they combined other activities while visiting the market.
Local business owners also enjoyed the advantages of ‘spin-off trade’ that the market fostered.
The study also highlighted the key role of the market manager in the successful running of the market. The study concluded that:” A manager who possesses sound management skills, innovative approaches to marketing and personal skills, will definitely affect the success of a Farmers’ Market.” In order to facilitate the business needs of not only the Farmers’ Market, but also Alberta Farmers, the Alberta Farmers’ Market Association (AFMA) elicited statistical data from vendors, consumers and market managers. A summary of these research findings from the Alberta Program follows:
With regard to managers of Farmers’ Markets, research findings, amongst other things, indicated that they felt that customers attended markets for numerous reasons, the two most important being freshness and quality, followed by the social atmosphere.
Table 1: Manager Survey 2000
92.6% quality products
87.2% social atmosphere
77.7% community support
68.1% support local producers
53.2% specialty items
47.9% price savings
43.6% organic products
29.8% ethnic products
22.3% environmental reasons
Source: Alberta Farmers’ Market
A high proportion of vendors (75%) participating in Alberta markets responded to the sur vey. These vendors sold a variety of products including baked goods, handcrafted items, plants and flowers, prepared foods, vegetables, meat products and native fruit.When asked to indicate their reasons for selling at Farmers’ Markets, most responses said they enjoy the direct contact with consumers, closely followed by earning additional income.
Table 2: Vendor Survey 2000
65.8% contact consumers
61.1% an additional income
49.8% enjoyment & recreation
31.7% low overhead costs
Source: Alberta Farmers’ Market
The majority of consumers shopping at Farmers’ Markets were female (80.5%), with approximately 52% of the sur vey population living alone or in two person households. Thirty-two percent lived in households with four or more people. Seventy-nine percent rated the service they received at Farmers’ Markets as very good to excellent. In addition to other responses, consumers indicated that their main reasons for visiting Farmers’ Markets were freshness, product quality and local farmer support.
According to this survey (Table 3), research shows that there is potential for the business and economic development function of Farmers’ Markets. As a group they can achieve more than an individual can, that is, “attracting a large and loyal customer base”.
Table 3: Consumer Survey 2000
62.6% product quality
59.5% local farmer support
50.1% community support
43.6% social atmosphere
27.1% price savings
24.5% specialty items
15.1% organic produce
9.5% ethnic products
9.0% environmental reasons
Source: Alberta Farmers’ Market
Today, Farmers’ Mar kets around the world are providing an alternative food source for the consumer in an economic system largely dominated by commercial food chains. For the small grower, particular ly, they can be a profitable venture , offering unique opportunities to raise profit margins by the direct sale of agricultural goods to the consumer.
Achieving success, however, demands that several key areas firstly need to be addressed. Especially important is a combination of sound management skills and innovative approaches to direct marketing. A successful Farmers’ Market offers potential to enhance the quality of life in the community and to urban areas, provide economic stability for farmers, and satisfy the needs of consumers.
In PART 2, the author will look at Farmers’ Markets in Australia and the UK, certification for Farmers’ Markets, and include a list of overseas Farmers’ Markets.
Australian Farmers’ Markets
Frenchs Forest Organic Market
Grounds of Parkway Hotel
Frenchs Forest Road East, Frenchs Forest
Ph: (02) 9999-2227
Farmers’ Market (Sat 8am-1pm)
Orange Grove Public School
Perry Road, Balmain, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9999 2227
Farmers Market Fox Studios
(Wed 10am-5pm – Sat 10am-4pm)
Fox Studios Lang Road, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9383 4163
Northside Produce Market
(3rd Sat of each month 8am-12 pm)
Civic Centre Park
200 Miller Street, North Sydney
Ph: (02) 9922 2299
Good Living Growers Market
(1st Sat each month 7am-11am)
Pyrmont Bay Park, Pyrmont
Phone: (02) 9699 4100
(Sat 8am–12 noon)
(run by NSW Federation of Farmers)
Warwick Farm Racecourse
Governor Macquarie Drive
(off Hume Highway), Liverpool
Farmers’ Market Menangle
Every Sunday 9 am 0 4.00 pm) Phone:9660-3688
Mudgee – 1st Saturday of Month
Anglican Church, Market & Church Streets
2nd Saturday monthly.
3rd Saturday monthly.
4th Saturday monthly.
4th Saturday monthly.
Victoria Street, Melbourne
Ph: (03) 9320 5922
Closed Mon and Wed
Collingwood Farmers Markets
(2nd Sat each month 8am-1pm)
Collingwood Children’s Farm
St Heliers Street, Abbotsford
Ph: (03) 5664 0096
Farmers Fresh and Seafood Market
1st and 3rd Saturday of each month 3am – 3pm
Redcliffe Farmers Fresh and Seafood Market
Redcliffe Parade Redcliffe Phone:(07) 3846-4500
3rd Sunday of each month 3am – 3pm
Farmers & Friends
Kingscliff Beachside (hydroponically and organically grown produce) Saturdays
Mudgeeradah & Marina Mirage Farmers’ Markets
Both held on the 1st % 3rd Saturdays of each month 9 am – 12 noon. Phone:(07) 5525-3525
Margaret River Farmers’ Market
1st Saturday am, closed over winter
Margaret River Tourist Bureau. Ph: (08 ) 9757 2911
Albany Farmers’ Market
Weekly, Saturday am
Albany Tourist Bureau
Ph: (08 ) 9841 1088
Carnarvon Farmers’ Market
May – December, Sat am
Carnarvon Tourist Bureau
Ph: (08 ) 9941 1146
Torrens Island Farmers’ Market
Torrens Island, Port Adelaide
Weekly, Sunday am
Port Adelaide Visitor Information
Ph: (08 ) 8447 4788
About the author
Christine Paul is a Sydney-based writer with specialist interests in the environment, traditional horticulture, alternative medicine and lifestyle issues. Ω
PH&G November/December 2002 / Issue 67