Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Market Manager's Letter: June 2012

One of the best things about being a market manager is getting to talk to so many different people at the markets. Recently, I’ve had some interesting conversations about what exactly makes a farmers market. People come to a farmers market for many different reasons, some of which have nothing to do with buying produce, and every market is different. A few questions came up during these conversations which I thought  warranted further consideration.

Why is produce more expensive at a farmer's market than at the grocery store?
This is basically the concept of small scale farming/economy of scale -- if one of our producers has a deal with a grocery store it doesn't mean that we can take advantage of that same deal. The volume a farmer can sell at a market is not the same as they can with a grocery chain. We support our local farmers and want them to earn a livable wage. Sometimes this means the prices at a farmers market are slightly higher than at a grocery store. However, you are always guaranteed that your tomato or apple was picked fully ripened and as close to the market day as possible.

I really wanted some peaches from the market. Why couldn’t I find any and why is there a lack of produce in the spring?
Our producers are local. This means they are limited by the growing season of the east coast/mid Atlantic region. More specifically, this means asparagus and strawberries in May, corn and peaches will have to wait until July or August, and Asian pears and pumpkins may not arrive until fall. If you're buying bananas at a farmers market in Maryland, you are not buying locally grown food. Remember, too, our producers are subject to growing conditions, as all farmers are. Too much rain one week and a harvest may be lost. Conversely, dry conditions may mean fewer green beans. Some producers buy produce to resell to offset these losses but we feel this is not supportive of local farming.

Why are there vendors other than produce farmers at the market?
We are a community market in a food dessert. Our goal is to provide residents of Cheverly and the local community with the opportunity to purchase locally produced goods, including meats, fish, breads and other goods. One part of our mission is also to support our community. Community comes in all different shapes and sizes. While some might not agree, we at Cheverly Community Market  believe that supporting local artists is as important as supporting a local farmer.

Why are there relatively few produce vendors at the market?
We are in a unique position -- after nearly six years, we are still pretty small -- technically a boutique market -- and we're only open every other week. Eventually, we would like to grow to a weekly market, but for now we do the best we can to attract vendors that can operate within our schedule. Some of our vendors grow items that aren’t available until later in the season (or in the case of New Starts Farm, only at the beginning and the end of the season) so look for more vendors as our Market season progresses. We love our vendors and think that they provide our customers with a great selection of what’s fresh, in season, and locally available.

Why don't you do more publicity? Our friends and neighbors say they don’t even know you’re here.
We actually think we do a pretty good job! In fact, among farmer's markets, Cheverly Community Market is known for its publicity work. We operate on a shoestring budget and most of our PR is free to no cost. We rely on social media and word of mouth -- and a few yard signs -- to get the word out. We do appear in newspapers, including the farmers market listings, but we cannot control the editorial choices of the media. The best publicity is you, our customers, spreading the word to your friends and then returning to the Market!

Thanks again for your questions. We love talking with you about ways to improve the Market. Have more questions? Ideas? Find me at the Market!

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