Mar 21, 2019
Farmers’ markets failing due to saturated market, NPR reports

Nationwide, the number of farmers’ markets increased from 2,000 in 1994 to more than 8,600 in 2019, which, according to a report from National Public Radio’s The Salt, led to a major problem: There are too few farmers to populate the market stalls and too few customers filling their canvas bags with fresh produce at each market. Reports of farmers markets closing have affected communities from Norco, California, to Reno, Nevada., to Allouez, Wisconsin.

According to the NPR story, Markets in big cities are hurting too. The Copley Square Farmers Market in Boston reported a 50 percent drop in attendance in 2017. In Oregon, where 62 new markets opened but 32 closed, the researchers of one multiyear study concluded, “The increasing popularity of the markets is in direct contrast with their surprisingly high failure rate.”

Diane Eggert, executive director of the Farmers Market Federation of NY, received numerous reports of closings; she believes the problem is one of pure mathematics.

“There are way too many markets,” she says. “The markets have started cannibalizing both customers and farmers from other markets to keep going.”

Eggert also points to myriad other options that consumers have for accessing fresh foods, including community-supported agriculture and home delivery options from companies such as Amazon, Instacart or Blue Apron that might be more convenient than shopping at a Saturday morning market.

According to the NPR story:

“Eggert says that communities, often hyperfocused on improving access to fresh, locally grown foods and caught up in the excitement of a new neighborhood amenity, fail to think through the logistics: There are too few farmers and too few customers to make multiple markets viable. Rather than packing up their tents, smaller struggling markets could combine forces with each other to create a single, stronger farmers market.

Before setting up farmers markets in every available park, public square and church parking lot, Eggert encourages would-be organizers to consider if the demand for fresh foods is being met through existing markets and whether it makes sense to partner with a neighboring community to establish a market.

“Farmers markets are a key source of local food, but we’d like to see communities working together,” says Eggert. “If five communities partnered on one market instead of starting five different markets, that one market would be a more exciting venue for customers and a more profitable market for farmers. We don’t need more markets – we need stronger and more viable markets.”

For the full NPR story, visit here.

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