Here's Your 2016 Farmers Market Forecast
We've got your guide to what's growing gangbusters, what we're missing this season, and what the future holds for Massachusetts markets.
Now that it’s late spring, the ubiquity of farmers markets is more apparent; it seems like every neighborhood has one. On almost any day of the week, you’re certain to find local vendors selling gorgeous produce, meat, dairy, and specialty items to passersby within 10 miles of Boston. It’s a reflection of our increasing interest to eat local and support Massachusetts growers.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
But it appears we’ve become victims of our own success. According to Mass Farmers Markets, the number of customers has doubled while the number of farmers markets has tripled since 2005. As a result, the average number of customers per market has decreased, which puts a strain on the vendors. That’s why approximately fifteen farmers markets across the state — from Assembly Square to Amherst Kendrick Park — closed within the last year. It’s a delicate balance our state and local governments are working to master.
Before you start to worry, I can assure you that the future of Massachusetts farmers markets is indeed bright. New locations open every year. Some, like Somerville’s Union Square Farmers Market, have not only become a bastion of community, but have also boosted the local economy. According to MaryCat Chaiken of Relish Management LLC, which manages Union Square and two other markets, “If it’s possible to put a farmers market in an area with small businesses, it’s going to have a big economic impact on the neighborhood. Our studies show that people tend to spend equal amounts of money at the farmers market and at neighboring businesses.”
While markets that are easy to get to and more visible do well, it’s not just about location. Customers desire access to a wide mix of products and price points. Farmers markets that get the most positive reviews also offer a warm and friendly environment, emphasizing the connection between vendor and customer. Thinking of the market as a pop-up park where people will want to hang around after they shop has been key to the success of Union Square, Chaiken explains.
The Market Forecast
It might surprise you to learn which items are in highest demand at farmers markets these days. Chaiken has received quite a few requests for duck eggs to be made available. “Eggs [in general] are one of the most popular items at the market,” she says. “We can’t stock enough.” After years of searching for local fermented veggie vendors, Chaiken is thrilled that there are now quite a few, including Chi Kitchen of Rhode Island and Real Pickles of Greenfield, MA.
Jeff Cole, executive director of Mass Farmers Markets, mentions that the sale of meat and fish has also grown over the last six to seven years. In addition, more farmers are cultivating mushrooms commercially to keep up with customer demand. Unfortunately, one thing you won’t see this year at local farmers markets is peaches and apricots. Except for a few farms on the south coast of Rhode Island, Cole explains, “They were completely wiped out… due to the Valentine’s Day freeze.” Plum crops were also damaged, as well as some varieties of apples at farms in specific locations.
In the future, Cole hopes farmers markets will be able to sell local beer (some currently sell wine). Meanwhile, Chaiken predicts winter and summer markets will blend into year-long markets since greenhouse agriculture seems to be taking off. Massachusetts farmers markets are also focusing on serving a wider audience by offering matches for EBT and SNAP benefits at more locations.
Whether you’re looking for a way to connect to the people that grow your food, a sense of community, a way to support the local economy, or just some high quality ingredients, it’s all there waiting for you. But if you want to get your hands on those local duck eggs, plan to get to the market early — I hear they sell out quickly.
To find out where to shop in the Greater Boston area, check out our list of 10 Local Farmers’ Markets to Kick Off the 2016 Season. To learn more about Mass Farmers Markets, visit massfarmersmarkets.org. To learn more about Relish Management LLC, visit relishmgmt.com.
Follow Amanda on Twitter @amandabalagur.