Farmers' Markets Produce a Bumper Crop of Buyers

By Neal Learner, | The Christian Science Monitor, February 28, 2000 | Go to article overview

Farmers' Markets Produce a Bumper Crop of Buyers


Neal Learner,, The Christian Science Monitor


It takes more than a drop in the mercury to prevent devotees of the farmers' market in Old Town Alexandria, Va., from making their weekly visit. Even in the depths of winter, a steady flow of shoppers step gingerly through snow to peruse the selection of fresh apples, oranges, and baked goods on display in the icy morning air.

Sharon Meier, of nearby Mt. Vernon, wouldn't think of missing her Saturday morning tradition. "Coming to the farmers' market in Old Town is more than just a trip to the store," she says, stomping her feet to keep warm after buying a bag of honey bell oranges.

"It's a family experience," she continues, her husband Steve nodding in agreement. "People laugh when they hear this is what we do every Saturday ... until they try it once."

This condition is not limited to shoppers of the Alexandria market, which operates in a picturesque square in front of city hall. Millions of people across the country are getting hooked on this healthful habit. Since 1996, farmers' markets have multiplied 10 percent nationwide, according to a recent study by the Agriculture Marketing Service at the US Department of Agriculture.

These days, about 3,000 markets sprout up weekly in every nook and cranny of the country, says Kathleen Merrigan, administrator of the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. Last year, consumers spent about $1 billion in farmers' markets. "Direct marketing for farmers - through farmers' markets and other means - provides for them an economic viability they might otherwise not have," Ms. Merrigan says. "It is especially important for small farmers."

Farmers' markets, in fact, are a win-win situation for both producers and consumers, notes Ramu Govindasamy, assistant professor in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics at Rutgers university in New Jersey.

"The farmers are getting a higher price than the wholesale price because they are selling directly to consumers," he explains. "While consumers are getting quality produce at a cheaper price compared to chain stores. They are eliminating the middle man."

Mr. Govindasamy estimates that farmers' market prices are about 10 percent to 20 percent cheaper than grocery stores.

His research found that consumers in New Jersey spend an average of $16 per visit. About 45 percent of regular market-goers visit a market once a week; 24 percent visit once a month, and 21 percent visit every two weeks.

Superior quality and freshness were two key factors cited for drawing shoppers to farmers' market over other retail facilities. When people are looking for fresh produce, Govindasamy says, "they don't mind driving the extra mile."

Connecting with growers

Farmers' markets exert another kind of pull that may be even more powerful than the mouth-watering prospect of eating farm-fresh fruits and vegetables - the chance to reconnect with the origins of one's food. …

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