Recent experiences prompt me to offer up two ideas to get more people to farmers markets. Why? Because I want farmers markets to thrive. As a general rule, they are good for the community and good for food. Therefore, I want them to stay in business!
Here are my ideas.
1. Information on availability
The idea: Let people know in advance what products will be available at market, maybe even which vendors will have which products.
This could be accomplished various ways if the farmers are willing. One easy way (for those with Internet access) would be to create a multiuser blog or wiki where farmers could post their products for the following day. There are assorted other options for doing this, such as one person assembling a list of products and posting it on the web or emailing it to a list.
The Lawrence Farmers Market does this for the Saturday market, providing on Friday a general list of products expected to be available the next day. It works pretty well. It doesn’t work so well, however, for the Tuesday and Thursday market. I realized this yesterday when I wanted to buy more strawberries (no time to pick ’em!) for a dinner last night. Would any vendor have strawberries? How about eggs? No telling.
So I went early, talked to the market coordinator and the only vendor already there, and learned there would be strawberries and probably eggs. When I went back at opening time, I barely snagged berries before they were gone, and no eggs were available. I probably would have gone to the market just for the berries, but I might have planned my shopping differently if I’d known I was going to have to go to the store to get eggs.
- More work for the farmers.
- Unless emphasized strongly some people might think they’re sure to find items listed as available, although I think this could be handled with descriptions such as “very limited supply” or such.
- Some people might think it diminishes the spontaneity of going to the market and seeing what looks good. I appreciate that point of view and generally subscribe to the buy-what-looks-good philosophy. However, occasionally I want or need a specific item. It would be nice to know if advance if I had a chance of finding it.
2. Centralized checkout—maybe
Not sure about this one, but I think it might be nice if the market would look at the possibility of providing, in essence, check-out counters. I suppose it would be a logistical nightmare, but it would allow farmers more time to discuss their products with customers and would allow customers to write one check to cover their purchases-and maybe even use plastic. This approach might reduce the misperception that produce from the farmers is more expensive than produce from the supermarket. (This post on Celsias links to a few articles that indicate it is a misperception.) My sense is that by paying repeatedly, people feel as though they’re paying more.
- Might reduce farmer-customer interaction, which both parties seem to enjoy (at least to a certain extent) and which would dilute the ability to know who grows your food.
- Might turn shopping at the market into something akin to shopping at the grocery store, with people cruising the “aisles” and not participating fully in the communal aspect of the market.
What do you think of my ideas? How would you improve your farmers market? Or is your market as wonderful as it could possibly be?