May 7, 2018
Reversing trend of fewer customers, sales at farmers’ markets

Across much of the United States, farmers markets have reported a decrease in consumer participation over the last couple of years. Farmers have increasingly reported this decrease has resulted in a drop in sales and a drop in farm income. The trend was reported across New York state to the Farmers Market Federation of NY.

The reasons can be varied; starting with an increase in the number of venues available for consumers to access local food. An uptick in the number of CSA farmers has drawn some farmers market consumers. However, it is believed that consumers who participate in CSAs are also likely to round out their local-food shopping at a farmers market. But we must also look at “new” venues, such as food hubs that purchase from local growers and then offer the foods to consumers in any number of ways, including putting local food in supermarkets, restaurants, as well as through retail sites located within the food hub itself.

We are also seeing an increase in local food in supermarkets, such as the retail giant, Wegman’s, who finds that local food access is a significant draw to bring more and more consumers into their stores. Finally, venues that offer direct delivery meals, such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, are gaining market share by making meal preparation convenient, easy and “purportedly” local. Each of these venues offering local food increases opportunities for consumers to purchase local food.

The Farmers Market Federation of NY, partnering with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County, NOFA VT, Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture (CISA) in Massachusetts, the Maryland Farmers Market Association and University of Maryland Extension, has been awarded a grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program under sub-award number ENE18-150 to study the issue and learn what drives consumers to various venues for purchasing local foods.

The project will undertake a multi-state consumer survey to determine consumer preferences in shopping for local food, their attitudes towards farmers markets and general buying behavior for local food. A team from the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management at Cornell University will analyze the surveys to determine trends, preferences and needs of “today’s” local food shoppers. Using the survey results, publications will be prepared for journals and give Extension, market managers and farmers a better understanding of current consumer buying trends.

Finally, the project team will use the information learned from these trends to prepare a toolkit and provide training to help farmers and market managers reboot their marketing and business strategies to be more reflective of the attributes consumers have identified as important when choosing a venue to shop for local food.

The project will begin with a multi-state consumer survey. This survey will be available beginning June 18, 2018 and will remain open until Oct. 1, 2018. To help the team reach as many consumers as possible, we welcome all assistance in reaching out to consumers. Please email the Farmers Market Federation of NY at [email protected]  for a link to the online survey to share on your social media and website and to share with your own community partners.

Farmers Market Federation of New York





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