Photo by Lisa Munniksma
As we flip the calendar page to August, many farmers’ markets are in the midst of peak market season. The fresh scent of melons and peaches waft through the air, and tomatoes aplenty nearly tumble off full market tables.
“It’s really when there’s this crescendo and energy about farmers’ markets,” says Stacy Miller, executive director at the Farmers Market Coalition.
Perhaps this is why the USDA named the first week of August National Farmers Market Week. In its 11th year, NFMW celebrates the growth of farmers’ markets across the U.S. (numbers tripling since 1994) and the health and economic benefits they bring to communities.
Miller says she hopes farmers’ markets will keep the spirit of NFMW alive through the rest of the growing season by continuing to educate consumers about the benefits of farmers’ markets.
“I think people realize that money they spend at farmers’ markets circulates around their county, town, or city and benefits someone they know,” she says. “People really value that authenticity in a world that seems disconnected and virtual.”
One of the great things about farmers’ markets is that they facilitate interaction between farmer and customer. Although Miller relishes the notion that each farmers’ market has a unique way of operating, she recommends several things farmers’ market operators and their supporters can to do to gain more prominence in the community and educate people about agriculture and nutrition:
1. Build community partnerships.
“We encourage farmers’ markets to constantly reach out to their customer base and beyond to new partners,” she says. By building on and leveraging partnerships with the city government and like-minded nonprofits, the farmers’ market can expand its community presence.
2. Distribute data about your farmers’ market.
By seeing facts and figures about the market—the amount of money exchanged in a given year, the amount of acreage used to grow produce, the number of pounds of produce donated to community organizations—customers will better understand how the market is boosting the local economy.
3. Connect through social media.
Some markets send out eNewsletters with details about the farmers’ market or post the information on Facebook and Twitter. Farmers’ market operators can share what farmers will be at the market that week or what kinds of produce to expect.
4. Host market demonstrations.
“Using the market itself as public physical space, neighbors can meet each other, hang out, talk to farmers and learn from chefs,” Miller says. She suggests inviting a local chef to host a cooking demonstration or asking the county cooperative extension to teach how to make worm bins.
These are also good ideas to keep in mind if you live in an urban area where there is no farmers’ market, but you want to help get one started.
“Definitely don’t plow ahead because you think it’s a good idea without doing preliminary research,” she says. It’s important to talk to your county extension service and other farmers’ markets in your region to figure out if this is a venture your community can support.
Start digging for information by asking these questions:
- Are there farmers near my community that are interested in participating in a farmers’ market?
- What kinds of produce are these farmers growing?
- What are the demographics of my potential customers?
- Where would I set up a farmers’ market in your community? (Is there enough space for parking?)
- Are other community groups interested in joining my effort?
Coinciding with Farmers Market Week, FMC launched a guide for market managers and a YouTube channel featuring veteran market managers. To view them, click here.