We are approaching the end of the farmers market season here in Wilmington, but we still have three weeks to go and we thought it might be nice to revisit some of the questions market customers have been asking.
In order of importance:
Q: Why are things at the farmers market more expensive than things at the grocery store?
A: Each vendor sets his or her own prices based on the cost of production, transportation, labor, etc. Our farmers are offering premium quality, fresh, locally grown, often organic, produce (much of it picked early in the morning of market day) that cannot be found at any grocery store.
Most organic produce in a supermarket comes from farms that are part of large commercial agribusinesses, which have economies of scale that small, local farmers can’t maintain. Many organic farms that supply supermarkets are in areas where land is much less expensive than it is in New England (especially Massachusetts), and where the growing season is much longer. The short and unpredictable growing season in New England means that a farmer must spend a lot of money and time to have produce ready as early and late in the season as possible.
Please feel free to ask any of our farmers how they determine price.
Q: So, why should I come to the farmers market then? You acknowledge it's more expensive. What's the benefit to me?
A: Well, frankly, the products at the farmers market are of a higher quality. It’s an opportunity to treat yourself and your family to something special. We realize that nobody does their full weekly grocery shopping at farmers markets (except maybe our crazy, food obsessed market manager). When you do treat yourself and shop at the farmers market, you get the chance to talk directly to the person who grew or made the things you’re buying. You can ask them about how they grew or made what they’re selling. You can get to know the person who made what you’re about to eat.
If you've ever eaten something grown in your own garden or a friend's garden, you know that there's no comparison between a green bean, a tomato, or a pepper that was picked the same day you're eating it and one that was picked about two weeks before arriving at the supermarket.
Q: When I shop at a farmers market, where does my money go?
A: At a farmers market, you hand your money to the person who grew or made the products you purchase. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, more than 130,000 agricultural entrepreneurs were selling quality products directly to the people eating them. In 2005, direct sales at farmers markets exceeded $1 billion nationwide. Most of this money, and the jobs that come with it, stay in the communities where the markets are located.
Q: How does shopping at a farmers market affect the local economy?
A: Spending money at farmers markets keeps your money in circulation within the local community, preserving and creating local jobs. Farmers markets help to bring customers to businesses in their communities. This is very different from many major grocery stores where a large percentage of sales leave the community, and possibly even the state or the region. Most of the vendors at Wilmington Farmers Market live and work nearby, in Andover, North Andover, Dracut and, yes, Wilmington.
Q: How do farmers markets decide what to carry?
A: What is at market depends on a combination of location, season, and market rules about what can be sold. Many farmers markets only carry locally grown, locally made and/or locally processed, foods. Most market coordinators create a system of guidelines that ensure vendors are producing what they are selling. Because the producer is actually selling the items, if you are unsure about what a product is, where it came from, or how it was grown, you can ask the person who grew or produced it.
Q: Is the produce organic?
A: To participate in the Wilmington Farmers Market, farmers are required to follow organic or other sustainable practices. We also encourage all of our farmers to use integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is a farming practice that aims to control pests in an environmentally responsible manner that eliminates or reduces pesticide use, compared to standard conventional farming.
Because the organic certification process is quite complex, time consuming, and expensive, some farmers who use organic methods choose not to get certified. Also, some farmers certify specific crops as organic, even if their entire farm is not certified.
Q: Is produce from the farmers market always fresher and healthier?
A: According to a survey conducted by Farmers Markets Today magazine, more than 85% of farmers market vendors traveled fewer than 50 miles to sell at a farmers market in 2008. More than half of farmers traveled less than 10 miles to their market, according to a 2006 USDA survey. Seven to fourteen days can pass between the time produce is picked and when it becomes available at a supermarket. During that time, fruits and vegetables travel, on average, more than 1,200 miles before reaching the final consumer. Since studies have shown that produce loses nutritional value as more time elapses from the time of harvest, locally grown produce available at farmers markets is available to you at the peak of freshness and nutrient availability.
Q:Why are there bakeries, crafts and other things at the farmers market? Why isn't it just produce?
A:Well, that's a matter of demand. People answering our first survey requested bakers, maple syrup, chocolate, cheese, grass-fed beef (which is another whole FAQ sheet), seafood and soaps. Most of the farmers markets in the area have items besides produce.
Q: How can I support the farmers market?
A: The most important way that you can support the farmers market is to attend and buy from the participating farmers. Wilmington Farmers Market is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations and volunteers. The running of the Wilmington Farmers Market is accomplished entirely by volunteer efforts, supported by individual and corporate sponsorships at varying levels. The Wilmington Farmers Market gratefully accepts cash and in kind donations. Volunteers are welcome to assist with weekly tasks necessary for running the market. Details on supporting the market can be found at our website: www.wilmingtonfarmersmarket.com.