The farmers market land rush: Paris, or peril?

7

May 29, 2012 by Sarah M

// By David Brauer //

When Fulton neighbors approached Kingfield about starting a second market two years ago, most of our farmers were intrigued. One, however, was sour. She’d started at a big urban market that then opened several satellites.

“It’s great for shoppers, but people don’t think about farmers,” she told me. “If the customers get split among markets, you make less money where you’re at — or you work at more markets and make less for your time.”

That knocked me back a bit. I’m an American, hard-wired for growth. I see the delight our little nonprofit brought to one neighborhood and wanted to share it with as many as possible. Organizationally, we might even realize economies of scale that lighten volunteer loads.

But bringing communities together is only part of our mission; the other is supporting small farmers who grow healthful food in a way that’s good for the planet.

In the end, we decided since Fulton was a lake and 3-mile-drive from Kingfield, a second market would expand the pie, not shrink the slices. That’s what happened: Kingfield attendance went up, and Fulton posted first-year numbers that were 90 percent that. We also created a second half-time job!

But in America, you only get so long to enjoy best-laid plans. In a single off-season month, a new Linden Hills market announced its debut a mile from Fulton and on the same day as Kingfield … then a business asked us to start a market 2 miles from Fulton … then a neighborhood group requested the same 2 miles from Kingfield.

I’m writing this because I want the community to be a part of the conversation we’re having as an organization. Are these new markets inevitable — and if so, do we best serve our farmers and communities by coordinating the ones who want our help? Or is organizational expansion its own madness, risking volunteer and farmer happiness?

I certainly don’t blame neighborhoods — and increasingly, businesses — for wanting what Kingfield and Fulton have. It was a pleasure to serve our first SNAP (food support) cardholders in May, matching weekly purchases up to $5 dollar-for-dollar. I was verklempt when Southwest High student Annie Olson stopped by Fulton to read to kids. And our new “ATM” and on-site Fulton bathroom were greeted with enthusiastic relief!

I can tell you from our application process that there are still more good vendors than spaces. But — and this is the enormous but — none of us know what creative destruction may come from markets ever-closer together.

Will Southwest Minneapolis come to resemble Paris, with thriving farmers markets on every day and seemingly every corner? Or will market supply push beyond demand, with residents partying while farmers burn?

As we all pursue the right thing, please consider making farmers markets a bigger (or at least more regular) part of your lives. It’s a joy to connect wonderful neighbors and fantastic farmers — but the ties won’t bind if both sides don’t thrive.

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7 thoughts on “The farmers market land rush: Paris, or peril?

  1. Allison Ruby says:

    I’m glad you are bringing this question forward for consumers to consider. This is a real concern, and I wondered very much when I saw the second Linden Hills farmers market this year. Why didn’t the second group work to strengthen what was already going? There are parts of the city underserved by the market boom. If there is expansion it should be to meet the needs of that population. For all the market exposure, that means farmers have less time in the field and more time spent not just manning their booths, but also preparing for market.

  2. Jessica N says:

    I agree with Allison’s comment. I’m a huge farmer supporter, and I believe that the people want fresh local produce, more and more all the time. While adding more markets may thin out, I’ve found myself unwilling to deal with crowds and parking issues when one gets too popular and go to a store instead. I want to support the farmer’s markets, but with limited sun in MN and many events crammed into a small amount of time, I can’t always go the extra mile. I hope increasing markets will continue to support current farmers and develop more farming and appreciation for it, getting back to the way things used to be – that benefits all of us. The transition period of expanding markets may be tough on the farmers for awhile, but I see the bigger picture.

  3. Brian Ames says:

    i would note that many of the newer markets have a shortage of real full time farmers and are heavy on food trucks, crafts, bakeries and things like salsa, candy etc to fill there stalls. there is no question in my mind that larger full time growers who make their living year around have been hurt by the unbridled growth of farmers markets in the metro. we are doing more markets at higher costs to bring in the same revenue we had before the explosion of markets. working with Mother Nature is brutal with the erratic weather like last weeks 10 inches of rain that has become more common with climate change. growers and producers don’t have the luxury of buying ingredients and controlling costs like the myriad of other vendors do that inhabit these new markets.

  4. David Brauer says:

    Brian – as the Kingfield/Fulton board chair, I can tell you food trucks really help the farmers because they are a draw, keep people on-site browsing and buying produce. But the trick (as with the # of markets themselves) is the proper balance. We heard loud & clear there were not enough farmers at Fulton last yr and we looked too much like a food court. This was early in the year and the late growing season reduced the numbers, but still, we took it to heart. We actually reduced prepared food vendors (so the ones we kept could make enough to be strong) and so we would more clearly be seen as a farmers market. It’s an art more than a science, but your comment is insightful. By the way, this year city ordinance says farmers markets must be 60 percent “agricultural producers” (not bakeries, food trucks, etc.) so we added a few more farmers … hopefully the neighborhood will respond to added choice. If you see a farmers market with fewer than 60% they can only call themselves a “produce and craft” market, for what it’s worth

  5. I too am concerned about too much growth in the farmers market arena. The big push for a market in Linden Hills has come from Tilia – I imagine more Sunday traffic in the neighborhood will be good for the local restaurants, I’m just not so sure its good for the farmers or for that matter the Linden Hills Co-op just a few blocks away.

  6. A. Saltzman says:

    Good example of what I call OIMBY, the opposite of NIMBY. Only In My Back Yard. I feel for the small farmer, they just can’t win. Lazy Americans will segment the market until it is so small they won’t be able to make a fair wage. G-d forbid we should consolidate our market at Fulton and get a little exercise by walking there.

  7. J. Botten says:

    As with so many things in life, the way we judge them (as helpful or hurtful) is determined by the perspective we begin with, and the context or circumstance that we acknowledge as being attached to the situation…

    Are there too many farmers markets? Are we providing too many opportunities for farmers to showcase their wares? Are we providing too many opportunities for consumers to make smart purchases, to support local growers?

    If you were to walk one and half miles down a single avenue in SouthWest Minneapolis, which is roughly the distance that separates the Linden Hills Market from the Fulton Market you might walk past about four hundred homes with roughly twelve hundred residents. This small piece of “social-math” should be enough to inform anyone who is interested in these questions that there are more than enough people living within a square mile of either of these markets to support both markets, without harming the Co-op or Lund’s or anyone else.

    Of course we all know that the farmers themselves are wise people, it why we love them and seek honor their hard work. Keep doing it! They are smart enough to know when their participation in a market is working for them or not.

    Support the farmers, show up with them wherever they are, and buy their wares.

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