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Monday, August 22, 2011

As More Farmer's Markets Sprout Up, Can Demand Keep Up?

Yesterday kicked off Massachusetts' Farmers Market Week, and we've enjoyed watching all the buzz about farmer's markets. As pointed out in yesterday's post, the number of farmer's markets in the Commonwealth have more than doubled since 2005. That's good news for people like us who want ready access to fresh, local fruit and veggies, but perhaps not such good news for farmers competing with each other, as several recent articles suggest.

Is the rapid growth of farmer's markets undermining their success?

According to an August 8 article on MassLive.com titled Glut of Massachusetts farmers markets spreading customers too thin, there's a high concentration of farmer's markets in the Amherst area (10 within 10 miles) and in northeast Massachusetts near Chelmsford and Westford but not enough customers to support those markets. A Care2 blog post dated August 20 looks at the topic on a national level, noting that profits are down for many farmers in over-saturated markets, including those in the Berkshires.

Fortunately, the MassLive.com article notes that some densely populated communities like Cambridge do have enough demand to sustain farmer's markets every day of the week. So, maybe the solution isn't reducing the number of farmer's markets but increasing demand.

Here in the greater Boston area, we're fortunate that to have so many options for food. Lyn, Tara, and I all live in communities that value "real" food and support local farmers. But many people in these communities still don't know how to work fresh ingredients into their meals (we can help with that!) or they assume that farmer's markets are too expensive (not necessarily true) so they stick to the grocery store.

Worse still are the communities (what Michelle Obama calls "food deserts") that simply don't have access to these options. The First Lady is encouraging large grocery store chains to expand into these food deserts, but we'd love to see farmer's markets sprout up in those areas as well. Perhaps as more people across the country discover the versatility and nutritional value of fresh produce, they'll be more likely to visit their local farmer's market. And when they do, we hope they'll share the "fruits" of their labor by swapping these delicious creations.

What do you think? Is there such a thing as too many farmer's markets? How can we ensure that farmer's market succeed amidst increased competition?


  1. We have several markets in our small town and they're always bustling. But don't you think it depends on the produce, too? My favorite market has 3-4 booths selling lettuce, so those customers may be spread thin, but only one that sells corn. The corn always sells out early.


  2. what about the logistics for farmers and thus farmer's markets to expand? I like your idea of getting them to reach underserved places, but as far as locations and geogrphy go, is that practical? is making that connection something local non profits, or ag agencies could look into?
    and those subjects might offer ideas for a few more posts for you :) too

  3. For me, there can never be too many farmer's markets. But the equation changes if there are not fresh and affordable varieties of items to offer.

  4. @Kris: I love fresh corn!! A lot of the farmer's markets in Mass. are seasonal because our produce season is so seasonal. I'm guessing that's not the case in Hawaii. :)

    @Kerry: I've helped organize food swaps but I don't know as much about the logistics of farmer's markets. My guess is that local nonprofits and ag agencies would be excellent allies. Or perhaps local farmers/artisan food producers could self-organize? I'd love to see the government encouraging those kinds of initiatives perhaps in addition to their grocery store incentives.

    @Sheryl: Excellent points. My guess is there may be farmers or artisan food producers in those areas but they don't have a vehicle for sharing their goods because the infrastructure is missing.