Cultivating community bonds: How farmers markets benefit growers and consumers
Posted: November 10, 2023 | Word Count: 699
Farmers markets are strong contenders for the future of local food. Each season, more than 8,000 markets sell directly to consumers across the U.S. Direct-to-consumer food sales totaled $2.9 billion in 2020, and on-farm stores and farmers markets accounted for $1.7 billion, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Farmers markets are a boon to local communities because they provide fresh produce at affordable prices. More importantly, they empower community members to understand where their food comes from and who grows it, creating strong interpersonal connections between growers and consumers.
The idea of selling produce at a farmers market can seem daunting to many food producers. However, Chip Ross, well-being program manager at Syngenta, encourages growers to be open to selling at farmers markets. "It's certainly something to put yourself out there and build a positive reputation about your produce," said Ross.
Investing money and labor to reap rewards
On average, across the country, farmers market booth fees vary based on the market's location, size and popularity. According to Medium, daily booth fees can range from $20 to $50, in addition to permit and insurance fees. While these costs may discourage growers from participating, the connections they make at farmers markets can turn strangers into lifelong customers.
For 30 years, Donna and Ed Welchert of Ed Welchert Produce in Ft. Calhoun, Nebraska, have attended the Omaha Farmers Market every Sunday from May to October to sell their fresh vegetables. Each Sunday, the Welcherts spend three hours removing their produce from the truck and setting up their booth.
While the weekly setup requires more labor and costs, joining has brought them more business. "We pay an annual fee for our booth, around $1,100, and we're in the same exact spot every week, every year, so everybody knows how to find us," said Donna. "We've gained tons of customers who have been with us for years."
Interacting with customers in person at the farmers market and through social media has helped the Welcherts build community connections. These connections allow consumers to get to know their growers on a personal level and reach out directly with any questions or requests.
Weather the weather, whatever the weather
Weather has a major effect on crop yields and food traffic at the farmers market, impacting growers' sales. One common disadvantage is a lack of overhead booth coverings, which means harsh weather may damage booths, displays and products.
Zoua Lo, owner of Lu's Flowers and Vegetables, knows all too well that sales are largely dependent on the weather. "If it's a rainy day, we don't have any customers. If it's a nice day, we have lots of customers," Lo said.
Despite being at the mercy of the weather, Lo and other growers persist. While selling at a farmers market can be a gamble depending on the weather, maintaining a consistent presence at the market long-term can offset the poor sales days.
The human element
Donna Welchert says when attending a farmers market, bringing ample produce is always a good idea. "A long time ago, we were told to 'stack it high and watch it fly,'" she says. "We live by this motto, and we found that people want to pick out their own stuff. They want to look through the peppers and say, 'This is the one I want.'"
By shopping at a farmers market, consumers can find the perfect produce with the guiding hand of those who nurtured the vegetable or fruit from seed to stall. It's this human element that makes the farmers market experience unique for sellers and buyers and leads to better profits for growers.
Lo agrees. She believes the key to success at a farmers market is simply talking to customers and fellow vendors. Being friendly and connecting with the community builds long-lasting relationships that can buoy growers through good and bad days.
These are just a few examples from growers of how farmers markets are more than just a platform for commerce. These spaces are hubs for connection, education and community building that ultimately contribute to the longevity of farming communities.
To learn more about farm production and the wider agricultural community, visit SyngentaThrive.com.