Value of farmers’ markets questioned

Discussion
Apr 13, 2015

A new study finds farmers’ markets aren’t as beneficial to urban communities as widely proclaimed. It found that they are priced higher, offer less variety and aren’t as accessible as local grocers. They also sell too much junk food, according to the survey.

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and Montefiore Medical Center identified and visited all 26 farmers’ markets in the 42 square miles of land in Bronx, NY, an area widely believed to have limited access to fresh produce.

Farmers’ markets had the edge in quality with their produce more often grown organically and more likely to be fresher, but fell short in all other key areas in delivering nutrition and health benefits to Bronx residents.

"Our study casts doubt on the presumed benefits of farmers’ markets in urban environments," said Sean Lucan, M.D., M.P.H, M.S., assistant professor of family and social medicine at Einstein and senior author of the paper, in a press release. "And I suspect that most farmers’ markets in most cities look a lot like what we found."

The study, published online in the journal, Appetite, claims to be the first to itemize farmers’ market products in an entirely urban county.

More favorably for farmers’ markets, a new pricing study from Ryan Pesch, a market coordinator with the University of Minnesota Extension, found the average price of a produce-only market basket during peak growing seasons were lower when purchased at farmers’ markets in west central Minnesota than at big box supermarkets, traditional grocery stores and specialized local food stores.

The Minnesota study did find a significantly wider range of pricing at farmers’ markets, which was attributed to availability and growing methods at individual farms.

A University of Illinois study released last year found higher prices at grocery stores, but also found farmers’ market shoppers ate a greater variety of vegetables and were more likely to choose fruits or vegetables as snacks.

What roles do you see farmers’ markets playing in the different types of communities they serve? What lessons can stores selling groceries learn from farmers’ markets? How will farmers’ markets evolve in the years ahead?

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16 Comments on "Value of farmers’ markets questioned"


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Paula Rosenblum
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

I’m really confused by the article. The headline says one thing, the body says another.

I think the key is in the Illinois study—people who shop at farmers’ markets have a greater appreciation for vegetables than for McNuggets (to name just one).

I definitely think the biggest boon of farmers’ markets is in the growing side, and it’s nice to support them on the buying side. Sometimes you just have to take a longer view. In general most of this article strikes me as myopic.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

Comparing a brand grocer to a farmers’ market is a bit unfair. Certainly you can choose a limited window of comparables and make a case. But the time of year and season is coming when the fresh fruits and vegetables will be on display. Personally, I look forward to going to our local market when the fresh fruits and vegetables are at their best.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

Results of studies conflict with one another. The qualifications related to results provide some insight: season, availability, location, growing methods and local grocery store strategies affect prices. Only carefully examining the original studies and putting the results in a specific context will reveal any lessons that can be generalized to farmers’ markets and their strategies. The lesson from this piece: there are no conclusions that can be generalized.

Ben Ball
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

Who the heck is funding these studies—and why?!

Regardless, the wrong thesis is being tested. Why should farmers’ markets mission be to “… be beneficial to urban communities… “? Farmers’ markets have always been to benefit farmers looking for a way to market excess or local produce during the high season.

Someone is looking for a benefit they believe should be there, I guess. But I doubt many actual farmers ever claimed the magnificence of benevolence.

Good grief.

Anne Howe
Guest
7 years 1 month ago
I’m an avid farmers’ market fan and have been for many years. I also shop at supermarkets for produce every week. I think it’s unfair to compare the two in studies, given the main benefit of farmers’ markets is in-season freshness week-by-week, supporting a mindset to eat what’s in season. A supermarket mindset is quite different, it provides produce from many locations so shoppers can eat whatever they want on any given day, regardless of what’s in season locally. A more effective study might examine the underlying mindset and the drivers of selection between these very different types of retailers. If the farmers’ market were open every day in America, my guess is that there would be more shoppers selecting the fresh, locally-grown options regardless of price. Case in point, it’s Monday. No farmers’ market for me until Saturday. I can wait six days for local spinach or go to Harris Teeter and make my decision if spinach from California wins on Wednesday when I crave a spinach salad. The day-to-day choices we make are… Read more »
Robert Hilarides
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

Regarding the sale of “less healthy” products at farmers’ markets: simply the invisible hand at work. Someone will market what people want to eat in whatever venue, and what better time to see a fresh doughnut than right after I feel good about myself for buying broccoli, kale and organic fruit.

The supply of fresh veggies, herbs, etc., in the city may increase if the urban, vertical farming industry grows as some project it will. The farmers’ market can serve as an outlet store for those growers as they manage their inventories.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

As assortment and value varies with supermarkets, you will find the same variance with farmers’ markets. Few farmers’ markets drive enough business to impact local stores, and when they might, we see supermarkets participating with a booth at the farmers’ market.

Scott Norris
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

New York City study looks at expensive New York City selling environment, concludes no cost savings, generalizes conclusion to the rest of the entire country.

Oh please, I get a fistful of organic green onions in-season at the St. Paul Farmers’ Market for $1, or pay $3 at SuperTarget for a plastic bag with half the amount. And the variety of vegetables available far outstrips what I can find at a Cub or Walmart—perhaps my local Asian market like United Noodles but nowhere else.

Off-season, I pay what I have to—but in-season you bet we buy fresh at our local markets.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

I think farmers’ markets can encourage urban agriculture by creating a market for city-raised goods. In these cases I think price and selection matter less than the civic good of supporting local growers and/or creating an interest in fresh produce.

For more traditional grocers the message is clear—there is a dedicated group of locovores out there who will pay a premium and view shortage issues as a consequence of seasonal eating, and therefore a plus.

As to the future I expect to see the movement expand over time for social rather than commercial reasons.

Brady Willhite
Guest
Brady Willhite
7 years 1 month ago

Although not an urban area, around where I’m from the whole point of a farmers’ market isn’t price, variety, or accessibility. It is quality (which this article mentions), and also buying local and supporting local agriculture/economy. It may be rare, but the price usually is pretty good in this area too. Of course, there is always the good ol’ justifier, “you get what you pay for.”

John Karolefski
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

There are studies you believe, and then there are studies you don’t believe. Farmers’ markets are indeed beneficial to urban communities, based on studies I believe in. Limited personal experience tells me that these markets are not priced higher and don’t sell junk food. So there!

David Livingston
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

Farmers Markets are more about fun and socialization. Pricing is only a problem for those who are intimidated about negotiating the pricing. Go 15 minutes before closing and the vendors will be happy to take your low ball offer rather than go home with inventory that they would otherwise donate or throw away.

Region of the country and weather restricts most farmers markets and when they can operate. A cold and rainy day in July means minimal turnout. They usually only have one or two days a week to operate. They are also restricted to only produce grown in the region.

I don’t really see farmers markets evolving much more. Sure, social media to connect with customers, create new payment options and other technological advances. But many vendors are still years behind. The supermarkets are winning, being open 24/7 versus 8 til noon, one day a week for 3 months.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

And Mercedes is less “beneficial” than Ford because they don’t offer pick-up trucks, and only 4 shades of red vs. 5….

I’m 100% with Ben on the silliness of these kind of “studies” (I won’t even get into the logic—or lack of same—of extrapolating a single county into the entire country). Farmer’s Markets are what they are: a chance for people to engage in (direct) farm>consumer transactions…nobody is forcing anybody to shop there, since I doubt their small number is actually putting anyone else out of business. The only problem seems to be that they don’t live up to the overhyped claims made on their behalf.

Chuck Palmer
Guest
7 years 1 month ago

Are farmers markets the solution to food-shed problems of impoverished areas? NOPE. That issue is so much more complex than a dude with a table and some green beans.

Are farmers markets replacing produce shopping at traditional grocery stores? NOPE. Behaviorally, most people who shop farmers markets are discerning and/or looking for some unique experience “What can I do with blue potatoes?”

Stores selling groceries can embrace the local food-shed and open their merchandising systems to smaller, limited batch producers. It’s happening because, yes, it’s trendy, but at its core this trend is based in a desire to be better and do better.

It’s not like it’s a Pet Rock (God, rest that man’s soul.)

Diana McHenry
Guest
7 years 1 month ago
Farmers’ markets serve communities as a gathering place, an activity, a place to form community. They give smaller farmers, bakers, etc. an opportunity to showcase their goods, techniques and for people on each side of the table to get to know each other. I might stroll through a market in a sunny weekend afternoon like someone would stroll through an outdoor art show. You get to know the farmers, bakers, orchard-owners, form relationships and provide an outlet for their passion and product. In addition to some lovely farmers’ markets, we have multiple community gardens in my Midwestern metro area, one in a neighborhood underserved by grocers with a non-profit who teaches people how to cook vegetables that maybe our grandparents knew how to cook. Park + Vine, a Cincinnati-based green general store and cafe, does a fantastic job of merging positives of farmers’ markets into its programs and community via educational offerings, discovering and highlighting some great foods, farmers, bakers, etc. Some national grocers have captured the lessons from a farmers’ market with the positive… Read more »
Sid Raisch
Guest
Sid Raisch
7 years 1 month ago

It’s really about experience and entertainment as a lifestyle. Oh yeah, and the authentic product.

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