So, let’s talk about Farmers Markets for a minute. Hasn’t everyone been to a farmers market at least once? I would think so, but as I think about it, I doubt it. I am sure that there are many folks who haven’t. What about farmers? Does every farmer sell at a farmers market? If they do, do they make a ton of money? There are many assumptions out there, but there are even more questions. So lets see if we can answer a few of them.
How many farmers markets are there in the United States? According to the USDA-AMS-Marketing Services Division there are 8,268 farmers markets across the nation, of which more than 100 are in New York City and more than 80 in Los Angeles. Since there are approximately 3, 143 counties in the U.S., that leads me to guess that there is not one in each county (or county equivalent). There are 64 in West Virginia, which has 55 counties, but not one in each county.
Why do we need farmers markets? We need farmers markets for several reasons. Farmers who sell at these markets offer the freshest foods available to the consumers. You, the buyer, also gets the opportunity to get to know the farmer who produces your food. How does he farm? Does he use chemicals? Is the farm certified organic? Are the animals that provide fresh meat, eggs, and dairy treated humanely? By getting to know the farmer you can select the food that fits your needs the best. These markets also provide a venue for the small farmers to sell his/her products. Many just cannot compete with the commercial farms that sell to supermarkets.
Do farmers make a lot of money at these Farmers Markets? The assumption out there is that farmers make a lot of money from their product. Truth be known, most farmers only make about 19 cents on the dollar for their efforts. Hardly enough to make a living. At a farmers market, small farmers who cannot compete in the large-scale commercial markets work to break even on their locally grown products. Many have begun to explore other opportunities to keep things going. Many family farmers have off-farm income from one or both people. See this story for more details of an Ohio potato farmer.
It is critically important for a farmer to know what each item cost him to grow, including his labor. This is the only way to ensure that the sales price covers the cost and make a profit. I learned a few months ago that I could not sell tomatoes and even break even unless I charged $4 per pound. Now I love my tomatoes but even I wouldn’t pay that for them.
Another thing to remember when shopping at the Farmers Market, if you think that the food is more expensive than at Wal-Mart, then consider these things first. Is it really? Make sure you’re comparing like items. Is the item at the mega store a locally grown, fresh from the field product or was it picked before it was fully ripe and shipped 1,000 miles to you? Is the food GMO free? Is the food organic? Is the food grown without chemicals? All of these things affect the cost of food. Here is another article that addresses price versus value.
So, going to the Farmers Market can be a real educational experience if you let it. You can get many questions answered and learn about the food system, your farmers, and your food. You learn to question more about the food system in the United States and find surprising answers.
Farmers Markets. They are good for the farmers, the buyers, the environment, and local economies.