Farmers' Markets are Not the Enemy (We're Actually Really Nice)


Farmers' Markets are Not the Enemy (We're Actually Really Nice)
Posted February 8, 2018

Last month I was confronted during an online search with the headline of “Farmers markets not the enemy.” While this was not news to me, I was curious about who might be so concerned about farmers’ markets that they could even consider us to be “the enemy.” It turns out the headline was from the website produceretailer.com and their article was in response to a recent USDA Economic Research Service study on shopping patterns of farmers’ markets and other “direct-to-consumer outlets.”

The USDA study, “The Relationship Between Patronizing Direct-to-Consumer Outlets and a Household’s Demand for Fruits and Vegetables,” which pulled data from a large nationwide sample of food shoppers, found that 4.8% of shoppers had bought food of some kind and 3.5% of shoppers had bought fruits and vegetables from a direct-to-consumer outlet the previous week. These figures align with the conventional wisdom of farmers’ markets that they draw, on average, 3% to 5% of local consumers.

The Produce Retailer article made the point that those who make purchases from farmers’ markets also make purchases at grocery stores: “[Study author Hayden Stewart] said the study shows that consumers who shopped at farmers’ markets and other direct-to-consumer outlets don’t spend less at supermarkets.”

This, I assume, is the conclusion that led Produce Retailer to determine that farmers’ markets are not the enemy. PCFMA’s survey of farmers’ market customers reached a similar conclusion with 92.4% of shoppers saying they also purchase fresh produce at grocery stores and 38.9% also purchasing produce at warehouse stores. Only 2.1% of PCFMA shoppers said they did not make produce purchases outside of the farmers’ market.  PCFMA’s shoppers said they purchase, on average, 61.7% of their fresh produce from their local farmers’ market.

The value of those produce purchases is more difficult to compare between the USDA study and PCFMA’s survey. According to USDA, weekly fruit and vegetable spending averaged $28.36 among households shopping at direct-to-consumer outlets, significantly higher than the $16.53 spent by households that did not shop at a direct-to-consumer outlet. The study makes the point that this difference in spending cannot be explained by price differences between outlets so it must suggest that those who shop at direct-to-consumer outlets purchase more fruits and vegetables than those who shop at other outlets. PCFMA’s survey found average farmers’ market spending of $32.94 but that figure likely includes spending on other farmers’ market products – such as flowers, bread, eggs or meat – and not just fruits and vegetables.

If further evidence were needed that farmers’ markets are not the enemy I would offer the large number of supermarkets that operate within line of site of some of PCFMA’s farmers’ markets. In different locations around the Bay Area you could easily make a purchase directly from a farmer at a PCFMA farmers’ market and also shop at a Walmart, Lunardis, Safeway or Grocery Outlet without the need to move your car. While we believe that farmers’ markets are the best place to buy your in-season fruits and vegetables, we recognize that other outlets are needed to ensure access to a wide variety of foods and other consumer goods in the communities we serve.

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