Reversing a Downward Trend in Customer Participation and Farmer Sales at Farmers' Markets

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2018: $145,242.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Farmers' Market Federation of New York
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Diane Eggert
Farmers Market Federation of NY

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: workshop, toolkit
  • Farm Business Management: farmers' markets/farm stands, market study

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and justification:
    Surveys of and conversations with farmers and farmers markets and list serve discussions across the country have attested to a marked decline in customer participation in farmers markets and a decrease in farm sales. Some farmers reported up to 35%, while others reported as much as 70% decline in sales over previous year’s sales. When asked about this decline, many of the farmers indicated that they felt uncertain and uneasy about the future viability of farmers markets as a means of selling their farm products and sustaining their farms. Market managers indicated that while the decline was indeed noticeable, they felt that the slip was attributable to things that could be adjusted to bring consumers back, but they were unsure what the answers were.

    Farmers were more vocal. Topping their list of issues that were impacting farmer market participation and sales were:
    1.Too many opportunities for consumers to access local food.
    2.Too many farmers markets, too close to one another, cannibalizing customers and causing farmers to attend more and more markets to reach the same customers and realize the same level of sales they previously reached in one or two market days.
    3.Inadequate promotions by markets to build market awareness and bring customers to the market.
    4.Lack of understanding of the younger generations of shoppers, as the majority of market customers were over 50.

    Solution and approach
    To help reverse this downward trend for farmers markets, this project will conduct a multi-state survey of consumers to determine their preferences in shopping for local food, their attitudes towards farmers markets and general buying behavior for local food. A team from the Cornell University’s Dyson School of Economics will analyze the surveys to determine trends, preferences and needs of “today’s” local food shoppers. Using the survey results, publications will be prepared for journals and give Extension, market managers and farmers a better understanding of current customer buying trends. Finally, the project team will use the information learned from these
    trends to prepare a toolkit and provide training to help farmers and market managers reboot their marketing and business strategies and help them regain customer counts, put farmers markets back at
    the top of the their local food system and rebuild farm sales.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Performance Target for Service Providers

    Utilizing a toolkit of operational templates, business and marketing strategies, 75 Extension Educators and Ag service providers will assist 200 farmers’ market managers and 350 farmers, through trainings and one-on-one support, to elevate the market’s position within their local food system. 

    Performance Target for Farmers

    Six farmers markets will implement aspects of the toolkit and increase participation by an average of 100 customers per week and 150 farmers increase sales by an average of $250 per week above pre-project levels.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.