[Market-farming] long term market observations

Mike Hulbert - Anna Carter - Creation Soap creationsoap at boone.net
Sun Jul 10 09:47:40 EDT 2005

What we have seen at the markets is that there are 2 types of customers,
quality customers and price customers, people who only buy from the
undercutters price would usually bypass the local stuff for that reason
anyway, the true farmers market customers are being educated more and more
every year to the difference and that is why they are there, to seek out the
quality with price a secondary consideration. 
The administrative structure of the market can take certain steps right from
the beginning to protect from being taken over by the resellers, restricting
their negative impact and still benefit from the added draw. In the bylaws
spell out the rules and policies of the market will be decided by local
producers, and include only local producers on the board.
One of the most successful tactics we have seen for keeping the resellers
from hurting the local producers is this; Once crowds start developing, one
of the first restrictions to be put in place involves setting minimum prices
for local crops, any type produce that is (or sometimes can be) produced
locally carries a minimum price among the vendors regardless of whether it
is local or brought in, this eliminates the motive for people to bring in
those items from commercial sources because they can no longer undercut.
Resellers must sign a commitment to follow this rule or have their items
restricted from being sold or expulsion.
The market can set minimum prices, it is not price fixing because it is only
a minimum and some can elect to sell higher for example tomatoes @ 1.50 per
lb minimum, but yet the hydroponic or heirloom growers may still charge 2.00
or 2.50 but protected from the commercial vendors who then can not go down
to 1.00 but must stay at 1.50. When the consumers see commercial tomatoes
and local tomatoes both at 1.50 they usually go for the local, hydroponic,
or heirlooms.
When vendors bring in items that are not locally possible it only adds to
the draw when they offer deals on those items (especially when undercutting
super markets) and does not hurt the sale of local farmers but in most cases
increases their volume because of adding to the daily shopper counts.
Usually when those vendors have out of area products they can under cut
super markets with they bought the items off the secondary national market
from wholesalers who deal in turned-down loads, damaged shipments, crop glut
surpluses, etc. and those items are usually one shot deals or available for
highly limited time periods and most likely ready to eat (ripe border line
over ripe) within a 24 to 48 hour period max from the time of purchase.
The ripe and ready to eat factor of the "deal" or "out of area product
vendors" is one of the issues we found that brings people out to the market
as it is often misconceived as "fresher" than the supermarket because it is
ready to eat, the consumers not realizing that actually it may have been
mishandled causing a shorter shelf life than super markets require. But this
common misconception also helps build customer counts so I guess it is not
really bad, just misunderstood.
I am by no means an expert, we have just been looking at, observing, and
vending at farmers markets and participating in fresh markets on several
levels for over 25 years. We have always grown herbs and made value added
herb products like soaps, etc. and found the farmers markets to be a great
marketing venue especially in regions that have a high transient affluent
summer population. 
This year we relocated to a small farm in Northern Michigan from North
Carolina and expanded our offerings into heirloom vegetables and open
pollinated traditional summer vegetables and now belong to 4 different
markets on 4 different days within 45 minutes of the farm. 
The funny or strange part is we are now dealing with 4 different sets of
rules and 4 different sets of personalities regarding administrative quirks
which really keep it interesting to say the least.
I believe the local farmers market in America will soon be a primary food
source for most consumers within reach of one as the public becomes more
educated and the fuel prices keep going up. 
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