Farmers’ Markets: A Real Opportunity for Michigan Fruit and Vegetable Growers

Project Overview

LNC06-267
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $76,600.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Jim Bingen
Michigan State University

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Fruits: general
  • Vegetables: general

Practices

  • Farm Business Management: economic/marketing

    Abstract:

    This project identified the constraints on, and opportunities for mid-size Michigan fruit and vegetable growers to become successful farmers market vendors. Data related to management strategies and records on farmers’ costs and returns for each farmers market were collected for one marketing season from fourteen participating farmer-vendors. Given the important differences in farmers’ earnings among markets, another survey focused on the structure and organization, including the sales policies and governance structure, in which the farmers participated was undertaken. These data help to identify the market factors that affect the attractiveness of different markets to different farmers.

    Introduction:

    Consistent with their growing national popularity, the number of farmers markets in Michigan has more than doubled from 2001 to over 200 in 2009. But almost one-half of the farmer-vendors have farms of 20 acres or less, and farmers market managers consistently report their need to attract more farmer-vendors.

    Given this demand for farmer-vendors, this project sought to identify why mid-size Michigan fruit and vegetable growers seemed to staying away from farmers’ markets. The project asked “what it would take to sell successfully in a farmers market” and it sought to identify the “economics” of selling in a farmers market.

    Beginning in late 2002 the PI initiated a series of roundtable discussions with organic and small-scale farmers related to their famers’ market experiences. These discussions led to a 2004 survey of farmers’ market vendors. The results of this survey were shared with vendors and market managers in a series of roundtable discussions during the Winter 2005. In turn, these led to several “rapid market assessments” during the 2005 market season. The experience with these assessments in turn created a greater awareness of the need to learn more about the production/marketing practices and strategies of fruit and vegetable vendors. It also highlighted the need for information to help market managers recruit more mid-size farmers into markets and thereby strengthen farmers’ markets.

    The literal explosion of farmers markets across the US is now well-documented. First, with the phenomenal increase in the number of farmers’ markets in Michigan, most market managers report a need for more farmer-vendors to meet growing consumer demand. Second, findings from the rapid market assessments confirmed the strong consumer demand for fresh and local produce.

    The roundtable discussions with managers and vendors indicate that the growth of farmers’ markets in Michigan contributes in several ways to local economic vitality. Moreover, previous work identified numerous ways which farmers’ markets were creating their own, and creative, food re-distribution programs, as well as helping to revitalize community and neighborhood life through a wide range of musical and “food events” and festivals, promotions by local community groups, and numerous adult and youth volunteer opportunities.
    A handful of studies have documented the contribution of farmers markets to local or regional economic development (see Lev and Stephenson, 1998; Hilchey, 1995; and Otto, et. al. 2005).

    Some previous SARE-funded projects confirmed the need for research that offers farmers opportunities to consider alternative marketing strategies. Of particular importance, one comparative study found that the ways in which farmers’ markets helped to incubate farm businesses varied significantly by the size of the farm operation (Feenstra et al. 2003). In part this confirms the need for market managers to orient their recruitment and retention strategies to the business orientation and needs of different size vendors. The findings of these and similar studies also confirmed the heed to identify all of the costs associated with selling in a farmers market as a basis for attracting new farmer-vendors.

    Project objectives:

    As presented in the project proposal, this project sought to achieve the following objectives:
    Short-term:
    • Develop easily accessible marketing and farm management strategy information, and,
    • Offer information-gathering opportunities for mid-size fruit and vegetable farmers to learn about, and use to develop their own more diversified marketing strategies that include farmers’ markets.
    • Offer farmers’ market boards and managers information that would help them establish farmers’ market policies and procedures to attract more mid-size fruit and vegetable growers as vendors.

    Intermediate:
    • Find that more mid-size fruit and vegetable growers will participate as vendors in Michigan farmers’ markets.
    • Offer more information about making farmers’ markets a successful marketing strategy by means of a “how-to” manual that could also be used to support agricultural entrepreneurial training.
    Long-term: As more mid-size fruit and vegetable growers are attracted to, and selling in farmers’ markets, it was expected to identify the ways in which:
    • these markets would become one way for these farmers to remain in business;
    • farmers’ markets could find it easier to attract more Michigan farmer-vendors; and,
    • consumers would have more opportunities to purchase fresh and local fruit and vegetables.

    An additional objective was approved during an extension of the project: to identify and understand the differences in how markets are organized and operate with respect to farmer involvement in market governance; and, to identify specific measures taken by markets to recruit and retain farmers as vendors.

    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.