Posts Tagged ‘Farmers’ Market’

I saw a Tweet this morning that introduces the 2010 National Farmer’s Market Directory.  The quick takeaways for me are:

1. Farmer’s Markets are growing like wildfire – up 16% YOY, continuing healthy growth every year since 1994 (the first year on the accompanying chart);

2. NC is in the Top 10 in the nation for number of markets, with 182.  That’s a market for every 44,000 people.  By those numbers, Cary should have 3 markets, and it kind of does (if you count the State market).

That’s good news, it really is.  We sell a lot of coffee in farmer’s markets, and spending every Saturday in multiple markets has had numerous benefits for us personally.  We eat better.  Our children have favorite farmers for every food.  We enjoy a sense of community with the vendors and the customers.  Our lives are enriched in ways we had never even considered.

But it could be better.  It really could.

Because in my experience, many (most?) farmer’s markets are missing a LOT of opportunity.  So I offer my unsolicited advice to any market manager willing to listen.

Opportunity #1: Ask your customers what they want.  Sure, you can guess.  But you don’t need to.  So ask.  Then do what they ask.

Opportunity #2: Be willing to shake things up. The fact of the matter is that most markets are squatter’s markets.  Once you’re there, you’re there forever, if you want to be.  The argument for this behavior is loyalty to vendors.  They come every market day, rain or shine, good day or bad. Shouldn’t we respect that and allow them to continue participating?  My answer is, “of course”.  To the extent that customers still want that vendor more than an alternative.  Fact of the matter is that markets have finite space.  Use it for the vendors customers want the most.

Opportunity #3: Let the brutally efficient capital market sort the winners from the losers. Market managers play God every season by determining who gets in, and who doesn’t.  Most of these decisions, in our experience, come down to vendor protectionism.  Market managers want to make sure vendors have a good season, so they keep coming.  Understandable.  And we’ve even benefited from that behavior.  But I hate it.  Take on more comers, and let the customers sort it out.  If there are too many vendors of something, some of them will go away.  Let it happen.

Opportunity #4: Be more expansive in terms of product lines.  People today are busy.  They don’t necessarily need one-stop shopping, but they are not going to The Lettuce Store, then the The Tomato Store, then The Bread Store, etc.  You’ve got to give them as much as possible in one stop.  That means meeting ALL their food needs, not just the things you think are important.  So even if your vision, Mr. or Ms. Market Manager, is The Ultimate Produce Stand, recognize that there are MANY customers who also want cheese and butter, cakes and breads, prepared foods, and more.  And accommodating them will help you achieve your mission, too.

Opportunity #5: Embrace modern communication technology. Most markets are starting to get this.  But there are still many opportunities to improve.  Part of the problem is that people involved in markets seem to believe that everyone thinks/cares about markets as much as we do.  Nope.  Not true.  Sure, we all have our die hard customers who do care as much as we do.  But most are more casual consumers of what we offer, and they need to be reminded, stimulated even, to engage in unfamiliar routines.  Remember, for us it’s a habit.  For them, it’s a chore.  Really.

Opportunity #6: Engage community. Many markets are situated near retail businesses.  Invite them to participate in your market.  To come tell market customers what it is they do, and why customers should care.  Most will be happy to do so.  And customers will benefit.  It’s a virtuous cycle.

Opportunity #7: Keep your petty squabbles in the family. In our experience, farmer’s markets are like families: they’re all dysfunctional.  Some are openly nutty.  Others appear normal until you get to know them.  But make no mistake, there’s no such thing as normal.  And like any family, there are all sorts of squabbles.  “So and so took my space.”  “He’s selling his tomatoes too cheap.”  “She didn’t grow that stuff, she bought it somewhere and is reselling it.”  The list goes on.  The thing is, customers come to the market for peace, tranquility and organic lettuce.  They live dysfunctional every day of their lives, too.  They want a little slice of Norman Rockwell from the market.  Let them have it.  No squabbling after the opening bell.

Opportunity #8: Embrace modern financial tools. Basically, this means find a way to take credit cards.  Customers in the US just don’t carry cash.  Quit complaining about it.  Either make all your vendors take them (unreasonable, probably), or find a way for the market to take them.  There is a 21st Century Farmer’s Market program – join it.

Opportunity #9: Dump the non-food. In a desperate attempt to have a parking lot full of tents, many farmer’s markets go the way of flea markets.  All manner of pottery, jewelry and soap crowd out the lettuce tents.  Some amount of this stuff may be desirable, but in many markets, it’s too much.  Now, there is a caution to accompany this opportunity.  Many markets categorize vendors as “growers” or “crafters”.  If you’re not a grower, you’re a crafter.  Hmmm.  We’re not coffee growers.  But we’re not crafters, either.  We’re artisan food processors.  We recommend you amend your categories to “food growers” and “food processors”.  Then maybe reallocate the mix – in many markets, it’s 75% growers, 25% crafters.  How about 60% food growers, 40% food processors. That’s a more accurate reflection of consumption patterns, too.

Opportunity #10: Have some fun! Ultimately, that is what it’s all about.  Create a party atmosphere.  Invite everyone.  Let your hair down.  Because in the end, life’s too short not to dance to a fiddle and have a watermelon seed spitting contest.


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This past Saturday, Western Wake Farmer’s Market started participating in the 21st Century Farmer’s Market program, and now accepts EBT, credit and debit at the market.  We applaud this decision by the market management.  Basically, the way it works is, you use your card to buy $5 tokens from the market, then use the tokens at vendors like cash.

We are not participating.  You cannot use the tokens you buy at the market to buy things from us.

We thought we should tell you why.  It is not because we don’t think the program is a good idea; for many vendors, and many customers, it is.  But for us, it isn’t.  Here’s why:

1.  First and foremost, we already have our own merchant account, and accept your credit cards.  So from a customer convenience perspective, we are already providing the convenience you want (and we have been since market inception). Using our own merchant account provides us some important benefits:

  • It helps us with our accounting, as the transactions are searchable and otherwise classified to provide important informatics
  • It helps us with timely reporting and remittance of NC sales tax
  • It is a good source of obtaining customer email addresses.  When customers use their card, we ask for an email address so they can get an email receipt, so we can contact them in case of problem, and so they can be entered onto our mailing list.  Building our mailing list is one of the most importnant ways we build our business.
  • We get paid in two days.  When you use your card with us, the money from your transaction is automatically deposited in our bank account two business days later.  The farmer’s market program takes much longer for us to get our cash, and involves paper checks, which necessitate a trip to the bank and another delay to clear (and always the possibility that they will not clear).  We do a significant card transaction volume every Saturday and do not like a one week or more cash gap.

2.  I become your bank.  Most of our transactions result in $1 or $3 change generated.  This is an artifact of  the pricing of our products – cups are $2, pounds are $12.  Most transactions have customers paying us in increments of $5 (as would be the case with the tokens).  So a cup sale only results in $3 change.  A bean sale results in $3 change.  A cup and a bean sale results in $1 change.  Let’s just call the average $2 change.  When you use your tokens, I need to provide change in cash.  We do approximately 300 transactions on a Saturday morning.  Each one of those transactions require change.  So in addition to waiting on the money I am owed for your actual transaction, I also forked out $600 in cash to make change (aka interest-free loans), which I am now waiting to get back.  If the reimbursement spans more than a week (likely) my cash gap is measured, literally, in multiple thousands of dollars.

3.  It’s just One More Thing.  Running a small business is hard.  On so many levels.  There is much to do, and much to keep track of.  Candidly, we just don’t need one more thing for us to monitor.  Taking these tokens creates an obligation for us to track and follow up to be sure we’re getting paid.  And for us, there’s just no need for it.  We already take (and welcome) your credit cards.  We think that’s enough.

We hope you understand our decision not to participate in the Western Wake program.


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A basket of goods from the Western Wake Farmer's Market

Farmer’s Market season will soon be upon us.  This post will update you on our market plans for the season, including some commentary on markets we will not be doing, to answer questions I know many of you will have.

We WILL BE AT the following markets this season:

Western Wake Farmer’s MarketOpening Day Saturday, April 3, 2010.  Saturdays, 8:00 AM till Noon.  In my opinion, WWFM is the best market in the area, and I would stack it up against the Carrboro-Durham Food Mafia any Saturday of the summer.  I’ve admired the organization of the market, and think they’ve recruited a great vendor base.  You can do your weekly food shopping here, easily.  Note that WWFM is usually a briskly attended market, and the best stuff often sells out by 10 AM or earlier, so make it a point to get there at the beginning of the day.  You can also follow the market on Twitter, @WWFM.

Duke University Farmer’s MarketOpening Day Friday, April 23, 2010.  Fridays, 11 AM – 2 PM.  The Market is held weekly through the end of July. Then the Market occurs every other week on August 13, August 27, and September 10.  The Duke market is a nice little market, not very convenient if you don’t work at Duke, but well-attended with a surprisingly large complement of vendors.  Less intense than WWFM, it is later in the day and therefore more subject to adverse summer weather, e.g., hot temperatures and the occasional thundershower.  Parking can be a challenge, too, but if you pull right down to the market site, there are a few spots reserved for market customers where you can leave your car for an hour without being harassed.

North Raleigh Farmer’s Market (Falls River, at Durant Road). Opening day  Saturday, April 24, 2010, Saturdays 8 – noon.  We started at this modest, but growing market at the end of last season, and we’re going to give it a try again this season.  We hope you’ll come out to make this one a great success.

On the topic of markets we will NOT be doing… Here’s some commentary on those where people probably have some expectation we’ll serve.

Downtown Cary Farmer’s Market (DCFM): deciding not to return to DCFM was one of the most emotionallydifficult decisions we’ve had to make as a business.  We love the people at that market, both vendors and customers.  But the business at that market is just terrible, and after speaking with several vendors, I know it wasn’t just us.  In a season where our overall market sales more than doubled, our performance at DCFM was down substantially year-on-year.  There are several reasons for the decline, but the big three according to our customer survey are lack of variety at the market, an extremely unfortunate choice of new location, and competition from Western Wake, which has a great location (6 miles from DCFM) and a nice variety.  I think everyone reading this understands that while there is an element of passion to what we do, we also need to make at least a little money doing it.  On the balance, we LOST money serving DCFM last year.  So we are not returning.  We hope our DCFM customers will buy from us at WWFM, which is just six miles west.

Durham Farmer’s Market.  Many of our customers asked that we sell at Durham.  We applied the previous two years and were declined, but you all started a letter-writing campaign to the market manager, so we applied again.  It didn’t work.  Our rejection letter said they have their quota of “crafters and prepared food”.  While we are neither crafters nor prepared food, we get the message.  I’m pretty sure there is more to it than what’s contained in the letter, but there’s really no point to me speculating, or being upset (though I am).  Bottom line, that’s that.

Regarding other regional markets I didn’t mention, know that we have investigated and applied to most, and for a variety of reasons none of them are the right fit for us (most of them resulted in the same kind of letter we got from Durham).

We do hope that you will come out to do your shopping at one of the markets we serve.  In addition to it being a great way to get your food, and a pleasant habit to develop for a Saturday morning, it’s the only way to assure that these types of markets continue to exist.  Trust me when I tell you that this is NOT an easy way to make money for any of the vendors.  But we enjoy doing it.


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WWFM Opening.  Photo courtesy of Sandras Kitchen Studio, www.sandraskitchenstudio.com

WWFM Opening. Photo courtesy of Sandra's Kitchen Studio, http://www.sandraskitchenstudio.com

Asses and elbows.

I just don’t know how else to put it.  That was the scene Saturday morning at the opening of the new Western Wake Farmers’ Market.

And it was wonderful.

Mia, Jennifer, Pali, Natalie, Amy (both Amys), Teri, Cindy, Heidi and Juliann have done a great thing for West Cary.  These women decided a year ago that they weren’t satisfied with the status quo of Cary markets, and set about organizing the market they wanted.  And they have done a spectacular job.  Hats off to all of you!

As a vendor, it was invigorating to be part of someting that was absolutely alive.  I was so busy that I only got to see the market from the inside of my tent, and that’s the way it should be.

Your truly, from the inside of the tent.  Photo courtesy of Sandras Kitchen Studio, www.sandraskitchenstudio.com

Yours truly, from the inside of the tent. Photo courtesy of Sandra's Kitchen Studio, http://www.sandraskitchenstudio.com

Like many (most?) vendors, we were pretty much sold out of everything by 11 AM.  None of us anticipated a crowd that we were later told was about 1100 people.  I think we’ll all be better prepared next week.  There will probably be some “settling out” period, for us at least, where we learn the balance of what we’ll sell in a given week.  I will try to overshoot the mark a little next week.

I’m told that there is an amazing compliment of vendors there.  Certainly the tents strectched as far as my eyes could see.  I did manage to get my meat shopping done with Grandview Farms, as they happened to be set up right next to me – grass fed beef and free-range chicken, yum.  Maybe next week I’ll bring some more help and get out to explore.

See you at the market!

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Hey all.

Did you know that the Downtown Cary Farms’ Market has been open for one month already?

Judging by the crowds, or lack thereof, we’re guessing you don’t know.  But the good news is, now you do.

We’re expecting beautiful weater today.  And more importantly, strawberries.  So c’mon out.


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Talking to our customers over the past couple months, it’s obvious there is a bit of confusion regarding the local farmers’ market scene.  Let’s see if we can clarify.

Cary will have TWO farmers’ markets this year: Downtown Cary Farmers’ Market, and the Western Wake Farmers’ Market.  We will be vending at BOTH of the Cary markets.  Here’s the 411 on each:

Downtown Cary Farmers’ Market

The Downtown Cary Farmers’ Market is the returning market.  This market is the one that USED TO BE at the Amtrak station on between Harrison and Academy Streets.  I say USED TO BE because that market is relocating this year.  The reason it’s relocating is that the train station will be expanded, and we were not allowed to stay for the season.  The NEW LOCATION is 744 E. Chatham Street, in the Chatham Square shopping center, across from the Circus Restaurant.

The hours of the downtown market are Saturdays, 8 AM – 12:30 PM, and Tuesdays, 3-6 PM.  Opening day is this Saturday, April 4th.

The official website of the Downtown Cary Farmers’ Market is http://www.caryfarmersmarket.com

Twitter @CaryMarket


The Western Wake Farmers’ Market

There will be a new farmer’s market in West Cary this year, the Western Wake Farmers’ Market.  That market is a Saturday-only market, opening Saturday, May 2.  Hours are 8-12 noon.  The location of the Western Wake Farmers’ Market is Carpenter Village, on Morrisville-Carpenter Road.  The market will be located about half a mile west of Davis Drive on the south side of Morrisville-Carpenter.

Official website of the Western Wake Farmers’ Market: http://www.westernwakefarmersmarket.org

Twitter @wwfm


We will not be keeping shop hours on Saturdays during market season.  C’mon down to the market of your choice and see us there!

Hope that clears up some confusion.

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I hear three complaints about real food that drive me nuts:

1. It’s not affordable

2. It takes too long to prepare

3. You need to be a good cook to make it appealing

So while pulling together dinner tonight, a regular Monday night with work and kid activities, it occurred to me that the meal we wound up with defied all the myths above, so I thought I would share what we did in hopes that you are inspired to visit your local farmers’ market this weekend.

Admittedly we had a start-ahead advantage tonight, but it’s one that you could have, too. On Saturday I made salmon cakes, and that took about 40 minutes, but I made enough for leftovers. Here’s how we did those:

Pan sear a salmon fillet (call it a pound, or two medium sized fillets) till it’s medium, not cooked quite all the way through. I actually used steelhead trout. Peel the skin after cooking and chop it up for the dogs. if you don’t have dogs, give it to somebody who does, don’t waste it. Worst case, bury it under a couple inches of soil in the garden. Crumble the cooked fish into a bowl. To the fish, add an egg and something to bind it – I used wheat germ because I happened to have it around, but bread crumbs would work fine. Use about the same volume as the fish. Add a big pinch of fresh minced herbs, whatever you have and like, I used parsley and chives. Feed any substandard parsley to the guinea pigs, or compost it. Squeeze a little lemon juice into it, and maybe a tablespoon of dijon mustard if you have it around. You could spice it if desired with Old Bay, or cayenne pepper. Mix well by hand, form into patties like a hamburger, and pan fry in a little oil and butter till crisp on outside and cooked through. So that takes all of thirty or forty minutes and you can make enough for about three four-person meals easily. They will refrigerate for a few days, or freeze for weeks.

Tonight Tim’s tomatoes were talking to me. So I sliced them up, along with some smoked mozzarella cheese, and chopped some basil leaves. I arranged them in an overlapping fashion, and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Some cracked pepper on mine, rest of the family without pepper. That took 5 minutes or less.

I had some left over foccacia from Capri Flavor, so I sliced it up sandwich-style, brushed it with olive oil and spinkled some sea salt on it and stuck it under the broiler for a minute till toasted. Literally. I topped it with Lloyd and Barb’s red leaf romaine lettuce and chopped up a couple of their spring onions. Place the patty, which I reheated in a couple minutes under the broiler, on the bun. now we’re up to three minutes. While the patties were reheating, I whipped up a sauce to top it: spoonful of mayo, spoonful of catchup, spoonful of capers, dash of cayenne. Dish is assembled in five to eight minutes, tops. So here’s our ten minute dinner:

Not bad looking, huh? But what about cost? Here’a a rough accounting, plus/minus 20%:

The fish was about $8, and made eight individual portions, four of which we ate Saturday. Add $2 for egg, binder (bread crumbs), lemon juice and Marco Polo ingredients. So about $10 for eight portions, $1.25 per portion. The tomatoes were about a buck apiece (which I heard today that somebody thought was expensive. For a guy I know to grow on his multi-generation family farm in Nash County, North by God Carolina. What a sad sentiment. I guess maybe I could have gotten them less tasty and a little cheaper trucked up from Mexico to the Super Target, oh well.) I used two, so $2 for four portions or $0.50 each. The cheese I bought from Titina was $8 for a nice hunk and I used half, so $4 for four portions or $1 each. Figure another buck for Marco Polo – oil, vinegar, basil, pepper, etc., or $0.25 each. The lettuce was a few dollars and I used a third of a head, so $1 or $0.25 each. the bread was $4 and we ate half on Saturday, half tonight, so that was $2 tonight or $0.50 each.

That sums to a whopping $3.75 per portion. Granted, the glass of Yadkin wine in the top picture probably adds a three bucks to my portion while supporting the transition of the land from tobacco to grapes (for the record, I personally have nothing against tobacco, the important point is that the land stays agricultural in the face of a changing market). Can somebody please tell me how you can feed your family and support your local food community better than this on $3.75 per person?? Seems to me that’s less than a Happy Meal, about which there is absolutely nothing happy. And you couldn’t even do it in less time, really.

All this, chased by an espresso I pulled as I roasted up some Smithfarms Kona for a great customer who appreciates how good it is and that it’s a damn bargain at less that fifty cents per cup, fully loaded, considering it comes from two fine people we call friends on the Big Island in the USA and roasted with love by yours truly in little old Morrisville, North Carolina.


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