Have farmers' markets hit a peak?


Farmers' markets exploded in the last decade. Spurred by renewed consumer interest in fresh, organic, and local foods, the number of farmers' markets in the U.S. more than doubled from 2004 to 2014. But a recent study reported by NPR's The Salt points to a drastic slowdown in the growth of sales at farmers' markets.

The statistics show that from "2007 to 2012 the value of food sales of farmers face-to-face with consumers dropped by 1 percent in real dollars. For some context, from 2002 to 2007 that value increased 32 percent. The increase was 36 percent in the five-year period before that." While this sounds like bad news, it  might not be as bad as we think. It could just mean that farmers' markets might be maturing.

According to Sarah Low of the USDA, while a farmers' market space might be a good marketing avenue for a small farm, it can also demand a large amount of time for a small amount of profit.  Therefore, Low says farms are increasingly turning to "middlemen to sell to restaurants, grocery stores and distributors. With an increasing share of their produce, dairy or meat going to those channels, some farmers may choose to forgo the farmers market." Other factors, including the recent recession, likely also play into the decline in growth.

If you are worried about losing the one-to-one contact with your local grower, you can probably breathe a sigh of relief. There are still over 8,700 farmers' markets in the U.S., and while growth is slowing, it hasn't come to a standstill.

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