Monday, September 10, 2012

The state of Farmers' Markets in Pennsylvania

Guest post by John Berry, Penn State Extension Educator, Lehigh Co.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a deep, rich history with direct-to-consumer farm markets.  As early as the 1700's, local producers were vending their farm products directly to consumers.  Descriptions of preparing raw products and value-added wares, loading the wagon, and spending the day at market is found in many daily journals.  More recently, Pennsylvania was ranked number three nationally for dollar value of direct sales to consumers in 2007 by the U.S. Census of Agriculture (USDA NASS, 2009).

2007 Direct-to-Consumer Food Marketing Sales (USDA NASS, 2009)
As the number of farmers' markets continue to grow nationally (over 7,100 by mid- 2011) and become more popular with consumers (USDA AMS, 2011), more focused needs assessments are needed.  What education or technical assistance could help these markets be more successful?  Generalizing from the ever-popular on-farm marketing materials did not necessarily identify needs unique to these enterprises.  While many of the educational needs on farmers' market managers and vendors are similar to other target audiences of Extension - exploring for unique attributes seemed appropriate.

A survey of farmers' market managers in Pennsylvania was implemented in February and March of 2012.  The survey included approximately 25 questions intended to study information and technical assistance needs on the part of the markets, as well as characteristics of the markets that may define success.  Some basic information about the markets was also collected.  The survey covered the 2011 season for all markets.  In addition, a portion of the survey of Pennsylvania farmers' markets examined how Pennsylvania's Act 106, and food safety issues in general, affected the markets during the 2011 season.

The resulting report provides summary results from this effort.  The typical market manager responding to this survey has 12 vendors attracting an average of nearly 600 shoppers per market day.  This is in the face of their nearest competing market being less than 5 miles distant.  This survey also indicates that 19% of these markets are considered as start-ups with 38% are considered growing and 37% are considered mature.  While the results are useful to those of us in Extension, they also may be of interest to farmers' market managers, other types of market managers, government agencies, and others who work with this audience.

No comments: