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.
The gist was that there are too many farmers markets and it is making it harder for farmers.
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.
Ann Arbor, MI