Are There too Many Farmers Markets?

This is a copy of a letter I sent to the Michigan Farmers Market Listserv. I will post updates with feedback from vendors/market managers.

There was an article in todays Sunday New York Times:
As Farmers’ Markets Go Mainstream, Some Fear a Glut.

The gist was that there are too many farmers markets and it is making it harder for farmers.
Selected Pieces From the Article: By 
Nationwide, the number of farmers’ markets has jumped to 7,175 as of Aug. 5; of those, 1,043 were established this year, according to the federal Agriculture Department. In 2005, there were 4,093 markets across the country.

Rick Wysk, who spent the morning pulling beets out of the eight acres he tills at River Bend Farm in nearby Hadley, says his business at farmers’ markets is half what it was five years ago.

“You have a certain amount of demand, and the more you spread out the demand, you’re making less,” said Mr. Wysk, who has been selling at markets for 13 years. He believes his business is further hurt by additional markets that opened this year in Northampton and Springfield.

“We’re Western Mass. We’re not New York City. We’re not Boston,” Mr. Wysk said. “We’ve got people, but not the population in the bigger markets.”

In New York, farmers’ markets in some parts of the state have started to “cannibalize each other’s customer base,” said Diane Eggert, the executive director of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York. The organization has started distributing feasibility surveys to communities that want to open markets so they can figure out if the location has the farmer and customer base necessary to survive, Ms. Eggert said.

Jeff Cole, the executive director of Massachusetts Federation of Farmers Markets, said the organization had urged groups not to open new markets near thriving, existing ones, but could not order them not to because of state law. In one instance, a new market opened less than two miles from another, Mr. Cole said. Sales at the first one dropped by more than 30 percent.

Other communities do not have enough farmers to keep up with all the new markets that are opening, Ms. Miller said. According to federal agriculture officials, there are approximately 2.2 million farms nationwide; in 2006 there were 2.09 million.

———————-

So is this happening in Michigan and in Ann Arbor where I sell at the Westside Market?


The Westside is the new kid on the block starting in 2005. 

The Yspi Farmers Market is also relatively new comer too (2006), but Yspi seems to far enough away to affect Ann Arbor and Ypsi needs all the fresh food they can get because they’re bordering on being in a food desert.

Last year was my first year at the Westside. I am a super small farmer (offering sprouts and baked goods), more of a backyard grower and I was grateful to get into the Westside market because the Ann Arbor downtown Farmers Market was more expensive, was hard to get into and a farmer was already selling sprouts there. 

The Westside was the only night market in town, which I felt gave us an advantage with customers who wanted to shop after work. We also have easy shopping mall parking unlike downtown, which can get so crowded on Saturdays that I some times leave without shopping because it is impossible to park.

(Maybe they can run shuttles on Sat????)

This changed this year when the Downtown Market decided to extend their Wednesday day hours to include nights.

I cannot say how this new Wednesday night market has change the Westside business. 

I am not the only Westside vendor to speculate about the impact of the Wednesday Night Market. 

Maybe the Wednesday night market will grow to swallow up the Westside for good or vise versa. 

Maybe we can both reach a happy medium. 

Or maybe we will both dilute each others customer base and poach each others vendors making Ann Arbor night markets an all around loss.

Or maybe another Thursday night market will pop up next year a few miles away?

It does seem like their have been fewer people at the Westside this year, but I do not have the numbers. If our numbers are shrinking, I cannot say if the recession is a factor or a saturated market place.

So, are there too many Farmers Markets?

Are we spreading ourselves too thin and forcing farmers to have to go to 2-3 markets instead of one to make the same sales or half of their sales at the one market?

If there are too many Farmers Markets, it could be a good thing. I figure that Farmers Markets need to start poaching customers from super markets instead of from each other. Think of all of the Kroger shoppers who buy from their organic food section. They can be shopping at the farmers market instead

If there are too many markets, we need more customers all around to support them, which is the challenge for market managers, farmers/vendors and the go green/buy local media machine and food movement.

I think that there is a perception that the farmers market is too expensive, which is entirely untrue. Dollar for dollar, I have found the farmers markets are competitive on price if not less expensive with Whole Foods, and organic/natural sections in super markets for comparable produce. I know my prices are on average or lower than area super markets for organic produce.

With that said, it seems that Farmers’ Markets are experiencing growing pains.

Brian Steinberg
Inchworm Farms
Ann Arbor, MI
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3 responses to “Are There too Many Farmers Markets?

  1. I’ve been to the Wednesday night market twice, and can say from a food shopping perspective, the Westside market has it beat. There are usually only one or 2 produce vendors at the Wed night market, although there are a lot of other interesting vendors – crackers, pastries, etc. And there’s music and a beer garden – it feels much more like a festival than a market. And it’s not exactly been thronged with people the times I’ve been there. (Parking is easy, though!)

    I know I buy more produce at Farmer’s Markets when I have more opportunity to frequent them on different days. The Westside market has definitely increased the amount of local produce I buy, versus stopping in at the supermarket for a midweek stock up.

    But certainly there’s a point at which supply begins to overwhelm demand, and that’s going to vary a lot depending on the region and local economy. Earlier in the summer it definitely seemed like the Saturday market felt really sparse compared to previous years, with more non-food-vendors in prime spots, and fewer vendors overall. But this last Saturday the vendors were busting out all over again!

    Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

    • Tammy,

      The Wednesday night Downtown market was pretty quiet the few times I have been. Parking was easy compared the wednesday and especially Saturday.

      There are less vendors there than the Westside or the wednesday day time market especially produce vendors. I think I only saw only one produce vendor when I was there.

      There was a farmers market almost every day of the week when I lived in Portland, Oregon and they all seemed to do good. This was pre-recession, so I do not know the story now.

      As a shopper I want as many local farmers markets as I can get.

      As a vendor (selfishly), I would not mind being the only game in town, but I know that will not serve the larger community.

      With that said, I do think the more the merrier when it comes to Farmers Markets.

      The challenge is to expand the customer base. That may mean more markets, which provide greater access and flexibility.

      The challenge is for market managers to promote their individual market and to attract the right mix of vendors.

      You mention buying more produce when you have more opportunities (days/times) to shop. I think the more markets/market scheduled times, the more people will shop at farmers markets in general.

  2. Pingback: Are There Too Many Farmers Markets? Post Two | Last One Eating

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