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

2007 Annual Report for 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

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


This project identifies the constraints on, and opportunities for mid-size fruit and vegetable growers to become successful vendors in the growing number of Michigan farmers’ markets. The project helps “farming-occupation farms” that comprise part of “agriculture in the middle” to consider farmers’ markets as a viable diversification opportunity and part of an overall market strategy that can assure their profitability and sustainability.

Marketing and farm management strategies of 20 successful, sustainable and diverse mid-size farmer-vendors will be compiled and summarized in a short, “how-to” manual, e.g., “Farmers’ Markets – Your Successful Marketing Strategy.” At two Great Lakes Fruit & Vegetable Expos and statewide farmer meetings (e.g., Horticultural Society), farmer-vendors will exchange their experiences and ideas with those not currently selling in farmers’ markets. These conversations and the manual will help non-vendor farmers consider the time, approach and economic costs and benefits associated with making farmers’ markets part of their overall marketing strategy. The manual and our continuing series of farmers’ market discussions around the state and at the Expo will also help farmers’ market managers develop more successful farmer-vendor recruitment strategies.

The manual will be distributed to, and discussed with state farmer and commodity groups, as well as publicized through the various industry and MSU Extension media. Agricultural entrepreneurial training modules on farmers’ market marketing will be developed. In addition to on-going evaluation and project adjustments based on discussions at the Expo and other trade meetings, short- to medium term accomplishments will be assessed by the success of the recruitment efforts by farmers’ market managers, and by follow-up surveys with newly recruited vendors to evaluate their experiences.

Objectives/Performance Targets

•develops easily accessible marketing and farm management strategy information, and,
•offers 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.
•farmers’ market boards and managers will acquire information that helps them establish farmers’ market policies and procedures to attract more mid-size fruit and vegetable growers as vendors.

•more mid-size fruit and vegetable growers will participate as vendors in Michigan farmers’ markets.
•information about making farmers’ markets a successful marketing strategy will be available through a “how-to” manual and also be used to support agricultural entrepreneurial training.

•as more mid-size fruit and vegetable growers are attracted to, and selling in farmers’ markets,
•these markets will become one way for these farmers to remain in business;
•farmers’ markets will find it easier to attract more Michigan farmer-vendors; and,
•consumers will have more opportunities to purchase fresh and local fruit and vegetables.


Major Activities

From October 2006 thru December:
-Human subjects research (IRB)approval was requested and obtained for our initial meetings with prospective farmer-participants and for farm visits-interviews with those agreeing to participate in the project.
-Since almost 20 farmer-vendors had expressed in the project as part of the pre-proposal, an advisory committee was not created.
January-March 2007:
-With 17 farmer-vendors expressing initial interest in participating, 2 separate presentations/discussions of the project and the conditions for participation were organized and held: one in East Lansing on the MSU campus for vendors in the “southern” part of the state, and one in Kalaska for those in the “northern” part of the state.

-Each meeting covered the following:
1)a description of the project need and the short-term objectives;
2)a presentation of the data to be collected: farm case studies; costs & sales per market; farmers market profiles; and an identification of each participant’s views of market issues and their marketing concerns.
3)a discussion of the project approach including issues such as confidentiality, respect for each participant’s time, the options for collecting cost data, and the organization of the process for collecting data.

April-June 2007: Farm Visits and some early Market Visits
Each farm visit was used to prepare a short description of the farm; learn about each farmer’s farming and marketing history; discuss each farm’s current production-marketing strategy and practices; and discuss the farmer’s outlook on the farm’s future as well as acquire any marketing advice for others. Farm photos were taken.

June-October 2007: Market Visits
34 markets were visited at least once. In addition to noting observations, photos of the participating farmer’s stand and the market were taken.(Two farmers sell in 5 markets, 1 in 4 markets, 4 in 3 markets; the others see either in 1 or 2 markets.)
Throughout this period, gross sales/market were collected weekly.

October – December 2007: Collecting cost data.
Beginning to review the data in order to develop appropriate coding schemes for the interviews and conversations. Developing the summary charts of sales. Making plans for follow-up visits with the farmers to review the data and discuss the market season

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Preliminary Observations

Most farmers appreciated the “rigor” of reporting weekly sales by market.

Four farmers dropped out for various reasons.

It has proven more difficult than initially expected to acquire the cost data for most farms. Even though the collection of cost data was discussed long before the growing season, most participants have waited to submit the data until after the market season.


Jim Bingen
323 Natural Resources Building
Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation & Resource Studies (CARRS) Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1222
Office Phone: 5173494272