Farmers markets serve as gathering places in communities — a place to hang out with friends and family away from home, meet your local farmers face to face, eat food and buy the freshest produce around.
They undoubtedly are important staples for many communities purely for the social benefits, but farmers markets also have positive effects on local economies.
POSITIVE IMPACT ON ECONOMIES
There are lots of studies on farmers markets throughout the U.S., and generally those studies have found that direct marketers — people who make and grow their wares and sell directly to consumers — generate significantly more economic activity in their respective regions than producers who don’t direct market. Up to twice as much, in fact.
In Idaho, Boise’s Capital City Public Market alone claims to generate millions of dollars for the local economy. It generated an estimated $4.5 million in economic activity in 2011.
But possibly the biggest economic effect is that the vendors who make the dollars tend to put those dollars right back into their communities.
“It’s well known that money that’s made within the community stays within the community,” said Denise Dixon, program coordinator for the Idaho Farmers Market Association. “So if you have a market that’s producing $20,000 a week, those vendors that make that money are in turn going to spend it in their communities, so it can be a huge benefit, especially to the rural markets and the rural cities. That’s additional income that will be spent in their community.”
The Farmers Market Coalition, a national nonprofit, said that 89 percent of direct market farmers buy their supplies locally, compared with 45 percent of wholesale farmers.
Ann Severns, vice president of the Idaho Falls Farmers Market, said the economic term for that is the “multiplier effect,” essentially meaning that the dollars spent at the market cycle back into the community.
“A farmers market can help a community create a robust local economy, thriving neighborhoods and often provides those with less access to fresh food more opportunity to buy it,” Severns said in an email to the East Idaho Business Journal, adding that nearby businesses also benefit from farmers markets.
EAST IDAHO MARKETS
In East Idaho, there are nine farmers markets — in Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Challis, Driggs, Salmon, Ashton, Rexburg, Rigby and Soda Springs.
The biggest markets in East Idaho are the Idaho Falls Farmers Market and the Portneuf Valley Farmers Market in Pocatello. Both take place Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. A smaller Pocatello market is also open from 5 to 8 p.m. through Aug. 29 as part of the Revive@5 summer concert series in Old Town Pocatello.
Severns said the Idaho Falls Farmers Market is doing well.
“The market employs a market manager who oversees day to day operations,” Severns wrote in a recent email to the East Idaho Business Journal. “With the integration of the farmers and artisan markets several years ago, we were able to employ an assistant manager this season.”
This year, the Idaho Falls market has 87 vendors, including food, produce and artisan vendors.
The Portneuf Valley Farmers market had about 25 vendors in May, but as the growing season continues, that number will eventually get up to about 60 by July and August.
Ellen Loomis, marketing director for the Portneuf Valley Farmers Market, said that moving the market from the parking lot on Union Pacific Avenue to the green space next to the Old Town Pavilion on North Main Street about five years ago has more than paid off because it caters more to families.
“We’re always growing, and we’re always looking forward to growing,” Loomis said. “What we’re trying to do now is just build a bigger customers base for our vendors. ... We want to make sure we keep those farmers here, and the way to keep them here is to keep the customers coming.”
GROWING MARKETS, INCREASING ACCESS
Nationwide, the number of farmers markets is on the rise.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 8,687 farmers markets were running in 2017, compared with 2,746 in 1998.
Idaho currently has 45 markets in operation, though Skylar Jett, a trade specialist for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, said that number is down from a peak of about 55. In 2008, there were about 30 markets. Now, Jett says, the number has stayed pretty steadily at about 45 for a couple years.
“There was for a while a big spike where we had like 10 farmers markets grow, so it went from 45 to 55, but then slowly we started to get a few less,” Jett said. “I think what started happening there were some of the bigger communities, like Nampa, that had two markets going on and one of those markets dropped out. Overall, the numbers have stayed these last few years steady.”
The Idaho Farmers Market Association, a Boise-based nonprofit that was started in 2014, is devoted to helping support and grow farmers markets in the state.
Dixon said her whole job is to help markets out. She said she fields questions from people running farmers markets all over Idaho and from people hoping to start one in their communities, including questions on how to get funding.
One of the big tasks she does is help set markets up to accept EBT, or food stamps, so they can reach food-insecure members of their communities.
“I think (accepting EBT) is a huge benefit to markets,” Dixon said. “First of all, you’re supporting our most vulnerable population, which the majority of people on EBT are single moms with children. So you’re giving them access to the freshest fruits and vegetables they can possibly get because the fruits and vegetables are normally picked that morning for that day’s farmers market. Secondarily, it’s a secondary income for our farmers.”
Dixon said that when she became the program manager of Idaho Farmers Market Association in August, expanding access to markets for low-income populations was her biggest priority.
“We have 45 markets, but only 15 of those markets are set up with EBT,” Dixon said.
Additionally, she has been working to get more markets involved with a national program called Double Up Food Bucks. If a farmers market has a grant in place for the program, a person on EBT can bring $20 to the market and “double it up” so they have $40 to spend on fruits and vegetables. Dixon said she is currently working on getting a grant so all the farmers markets in Idaho can have access to the Double Up program.
EBT is accepted at both the Idaho Falls and Pocatello farmers markets, but neither have access to Double Up Food Bucks.
Ultimately, Dixon wants everyone in Idaho to be “food secure.”
“We’re just about trying to get all that food security in every corner of Idaho and especially in our rural communities,” she said.
Jett touted local markets as places where small communities — some that don’t have a local grocery store — have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
“For the smaller communities, I know it’s one of the only places where they are able to buy fresh, local produce that’s from a farmer near them versus being imported,” Jett said. “I come from Mountain Home, which is a much smaller community than Boise, so for us in Mountain Home, it’s one of the few spots where we can actually go and buy local beef from an actual rancher who’s raising the beef in Mountain Home and then there are people there who are selling their local honey, which is raised from the beehives. For the economy, it’s really great because it’s the consumer in the community supporting their local farmers in that area. In Mountain Home, there are not a lot of other retail options, which is a thing in a lot of small, rural communities in Idaho.”
Dixon also cited the benefits of farmers markets to small, rural towns.
“(Some of the smaller communities in Idaho) don’t have grocery stores. They’re called food deserts,” Dixon said. “They do not have access to fruits and vegetables. That’s the biggest thing they’re bringing to their community.”
WAY TO INTRODUCE WARES
For some business owners, getting a stand at a farmers market is a good low-risk place to see if people are interested in their product.
“It’s a good place to start when you’re selling to see if there’s interest in your product and also get consumer feedback and see what tweaks you can make before maybe moving into some of the larger retail chains,” Jett said. “There are some growers I know who just really like selling at farmers markets. It helps connect them to the community. It helps get their name out there in a different venue.”
Severns also said markets can be an easy way for people to get their products out there.
“Small and midsized farmers and artisans use farmers markets as a first point of entry into a market for their products,” she said.
Severns said it also helps new businesses because they don’t have to pay for a storefront.
“Farmers markets allow producers to incubate their businesses, develop and test their products with instant feedback and earn a reliable income. Selling directly to consumers allows the farmers and artisans to capture the entire selling price without investing in infrastructure (store or farm stall) distribution or a middleman.”
In addition to the economic benefits of farmers markets, they also act as important “third places” — places that aren’t home or work — in communities.
Severns emphasized this.
“Farmers markets are important spaces in the community because customers connect their purchases to an experience and people connect with one another,” she said. “These connections promote the sense of place that is important for individuals to feel anchored in their community.”
“It brings a gathering place. There are a few places in Pocatello that are gathering places, but this is a fun atmosphere for families, for couples, for whoever,” she said. “Even if you just want to stop and get some organic food, it’s a fun gathering place. It gives people a destination to go on Saturday morning, making it a tradition sometimes. Some families come every Saturday, some come every other Saturday. There are always new things going on at the market so people still wander through every Saturday.”
Dixon said having a gathering place is especially important for small communities.
“I run the Homedale Farmers Market as well,” Dixon said. “This is a community that’s less than 3,000 people and not a whole lot of community organization. My market is every Thursday, and I have about 150 customers a day. A lot of those people hang out. It becomes a community gathering place for kids to play in the park, for parents, for families, for elderly.”
Loomis encourages people who may have not visited the farmers market recently to come check it out.
“We’ve got new vendors every year,” Loomis said. “Farmers have always got something fresh to choose from. Sometimes they grow fresh new products for choices to offer the customers.”
It’s also not just food and plants to choose from at the market. Local organizations — such as Solarize Pocatello, NAACP, League of Women Voters — also set up booths to give out information, and there is a new food vendor — Himalayan Flavor.
“Something for everybody is usually down here at the market,” Loomis said.