The state of Farmers Markets in New Hampshire
A recent article in the Concord Monitor prompted me to write the following response (a shorter version was submitted to the Monitor). The Monitors article was titled: N.H. vendors cope with farmers market competition and can be found here.
I am one of the owners of Hermit Woods Winery in Sanbornton and we have been vendors at several farmers markets over the past few years. I am also someone who feels it is very important to purchase as much of my food as possible from local farmers and producers.
As both a vendor and a consumer, I find the NH farmers market system very challenging and often frustrating. As pointed out in your article, more and more small markets are opening up every year dividing both the number of vendors and the consumers between the competing markets. This is potentially unproductive for the market organizers who struggle to maintain enough buyers to satisfy their vendors, and the vendors for the same reason. Even more important, it makes it very difficult for consumers to do their shopping at farmers markets. Personally, I often have to make time to visit at least two and usually three different markets across multiple days to find the produce and goods that I need.
Competing markets have too few vendors to ensure a wide variety of goods to be had at any single market. Do to the increased time of having to drive to multiple markets on multiple days, the increased mileage and gas consumed, it makes for a difficult choice between markets or a single visit to the supermarket where everything you need can be found at one location. I personally am committed to markets, but until this issue is addressed, it will hard to convince the general public to choose farmers markets over supermarkets.
As most market organizers discourage multiple vendors of the same type of products at a single market, markets will continue to be small and variety limited. Organizers and vendors fear that allowing multiple vendors of the same products will diminish their individual sales, and they are correct. Unless markets can increase traffic there would not be enough business for everyone. This is the catch 22 that is in my opinion stifling farmers markets in NH.
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Given that most people I know travel to multiple markets every week to purchase their weekly goods, and most vendors do the same, a great deal of time and gas is already being spend driving between markets. For this reason, it would be easy to justify traveling further to ensure you could get all your needs met in one location. Ultimately saving time and money for both the consumer and farmer.
Having traveled in Europe, where the model I have described above is the model whereby most markets operate, there is no doubt it can work. Some of these markets have as many as one or two hundred vendors and thousands of customers every week, and everyone benefits, vendors, market organizers, and customers.
I am aware that what I am proposing will not come without its challenges. But, I would argue that the challenges that customers, market organizers, and vendors face now are very real and preventing significant growth in the local food movement. I personally am confident that if we did do things differently, we would all benefit.
I would love to hear your feedback on this issue.