Farmers’ markets, stick to your roots

July 12, 2012

In efforts to build traffic and revenues, farmers’ markets soften their identities with unrelated merchandise.

On the surface, advances by farmers’ markets appear to facilitate business with a growing body of consumers. At markets in Boston and New York, for instance, new technologies are in place to accept card-scan and mobile payments.

Also, under New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Health Bucks program has been expanded to all 138 farmers’ markets, up more than 100% from last year’s 65. The program gives qualifying low-income shoppers an extra $2 incentive to buy more fruits and vegetables with every $5 purchase.  

If some food prices seem high to potential buyers, at least the convenience of electronic payments relieves the sting. And the NYC government support is expected to yield $350,000 in free fruits and vegetables to low-income New Yorkers this season. These food-stamp recipients can also attend nutrition education and cooking demos with produce, run by Stellar Farmers Markets, at 18 of the city’s farmers’ markets in 2012.

The Lempert Report applauds efforts like these to grow the presence and utility of farmers’ markets. Yet we feel that many farmers’ markets self-inflict damage to their own unique identity with different kinds of marketing initiatives.

We’re talking about the spread of t-shirt sellers, arts, crafts and jewelry vendors, and other merchants that give these outdoor settings more of a flea market feel. We understand the temptation for organizers to seek more revenue and traffic, but we’ve personally seen these attempts turn off some core shoppers at farmers’ markets who prefer the purer, lower-key environment of fresh, wholesome foods.

If these trends continue without logical guidelines as to what’s appropriate in a farmer’s market, we feel that many will lose the spirit of what they’re supposed to represent. Call us traditionalists in this regard, but we think farmers’ markets that stick to their roots will be best off in the long run.