Preliminary Farmers Market Survey Results Offer New Insights

      Posted On: July 20, 2008

As many in the farmers market community are well aware, a dearth of comprehensive research on farmers markets at the national level is just one of many challenges to identifying and addressing common obstacles. The gap in knowledge, thankfully, is about to grow a little smaller, as the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will be releasing a full report from the 2006 National Farmers Market Survey later this year. Here we provide a few of the preliminary highlights from the forthcoming report, thanks to the researchers at AMS.

Out of 3,743 surveys distributed to farmers market managers, 1,295 useable surveys were returned. Markets included in the survey were those that sold 50% or more directly to consumers, had a minimum of two vendors and were open during the 2005 market year.

According to farmers market managers, the top three reasons consumers shop at farmers markets were freshness, taste, and access to local food. Southwestern and Northeastern customers seem to be more interested in freshness than those in other parts of the country, while those in the Mid-Atlantic, Rocky Mountain, Far West and North Central regions were somewhat more interested in obtaining local food products.

Average annual sales per vendor during 2005 were $7,108, ranging from $2,349 to $17,017. Annual sales per vendor were significantly higher at the smallest and largest farmers markets than in the mid-sized category, and well-established markets (20 or more years of continuous operation) not surprisingly generate more income for vendors than other farmers markets. Average sales per market were higher for market between 5-9 years old and well established markets (20 years old or greater). Newer markets and smaller markets were more inclined to say that their demand exceeded supply.

The Northeast region reported the highest monthly WIC sales per market, while the North Central region reported the lowest WIC monthly sales per market. Interestingly, smaller markets reported higher participation rates in the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP), although average monthly sales of SFMNP vouchers was largest at larger and more established markets. 6.8% of respondents indicated EBT participation in the 2005 market year, and these markets reported an average of $279 in EBT sales per month.

Debra Tropp, Branch Chief of Farmers Market and Direct Marketing Research at the USDA AMS Marketing Services Division, says that farmers market managers can learn a great deal from this data. “It provides us all with valuable information about the apparent impact of farmers markets in terms of generating farm-based income for smaller agricultural producers and improving food access to recipients of Federal nutrition program benefits, as well as information about the role that geographic location, scale of operation, product mix, and population density seem to play in influencing market performance.”

Stay tuned for an announcement about the release of the full report, in which you will be able to compare shopper motivations, average monthly sales per vendor, market managers’ perceptions of the balance of supply and demand at their markets, and participation in the Women, Infant and Children Farmers Market Nutrition Program, Senior Farmers Market Nutrition program, and Electronic Benefits Transfer.