Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

What's Next for Pittsburgh's Farmers Markets? Study May Miss the Mark on Farmers' and Vendors' Concerns

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

What's Next for Pittsburgh's Farmers Markets? Study May Miss the Mark on Farmers' and Vendors' Concerns

Article excerpt

It may be another month before Pittsburgh's long-awaited farmers market study is completed that analyzed the viability of these seasonal staples.

But city officials already have reached at least one conclusion: They need more marketing - a lot of it.

Farmers and vendors are concerned there are too many markets operating in the city, and they worry that many vendors are reselling produce from other farms or produce distributors that aren't present at the markets.

The city planning commission in September 2017 launched the Farmers Market Study Community Outreach in coordination with a national nonprofit organization, the Farmers Market Coalition.

The study analyzed the eight markets organized by the city's Department of Special Events and 18 organized by other groups, such as community development corporations. The goal was to assess what's working well and what can be changed to benefit both farmers and shoppers. Nearly 500 customers and vendors were surveyed at the markets and over the phone in the final months of last year's market season.

"I think helping with the promotion is a big thing that the city can do," said Shelly Danko Day, the city's urban agriculture and food policy adviser who last year oversaw the city's markets. In a reorganization in January, that responsibility shifted to Brian Katze, the special events manager.

Mr. Katze agreed with the need for more marketing. "One of the main things that [the Farmers Market Coalition] brought up in the beginning to us was some of the farmers felt there was a lack of visibility to the markets," he said. The changes include adding signs and more promotion on social media.

The city in late July released a market directory online, although it does not include a list of vendors or operating hours for all listed markets.

Among changes already made, an opening bell now signals the start of sales at each of the city's markets. And an online platform has been created to improve communication among market managers. Other changes will not be put in place until the next season opens in 2019.

"Farmers run the markets. There's a market manager that brings things together," Ms. Danko Day said, "but mainly, what the farmers are looking for is for someone to tell [the customers] that they'll be there. It's the marketing that [the farmers] are lacking."

Yet some vendors say that no one is enforcing rules, which add to confusion at the markets. Megan Whitmer, 29, is an employee of Just Harvest, a local nonprofit that aims to address food access and has a presence at 21 markets with the Fresh Access program. She said that one of the issues that most concerns her is that certain rules aren't followed, such as the use of weights to secure tents to the ground. She is concerned that tents could prove a hazard on windy days; the markets are rain or shine. "It's such a hazard. There are rules. It's not my job to enforce, but I get nervous. Public safety is important," Ms. Whitmer said.

In addition, the city made new sandwich boards this year to direct foot traffic from major streets to the market. But on a recent market day, a sandwich board on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill incorrectly advertised the 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday market as taking place between 3 and 7 p.m.

Some farmers and vendors are seeking larger organizational changes. Gary Borrow, a farmer in his third season with Brenckle's Organic Farm of Zelienople, believes there are too many markets. …

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