Are farmers’ markets an over-priced, middle class minority interest? Answer of the week.

The Food Sage Question of the Week: Have farmers’ markets become an over-priced, middle class, minority interest? sparked an interesting discussion on the blo,  Twitter and LinkedIn. Even Stephanie Alexander wanted to have her say. “Didn’t look like that yesterday in Launceston,” Stephanie said. “Families, lovely produce, enthusiasm, hard work, one year old. Different strokes?”

Stephanie has a point: everyone – or every market — has their own way of doing things. And as Ali Walker, who runs the Mansfield Farmers market in north east Victoria, said: not all farmers markets markets “should be tarred with the same brush”. Ali says the Mansfield market is not overly priced.

“Sure some items are expensive – but the choice cuts of meat would be expensive if you bought them at the local butcher or the supermarket too.”

The market, which started in September 2009, has Victorian Farmers Market Association accreditation. The accreditation process requires a certain percentage of stallholders hold individual accreditation, which provides a guarantee to the consumer that they have made or grown what they sell.

Accreditation seems to be a reasonable solution to one problem: that of identifying stallholders who are legitimate growers or producers. But markets appear to be slow on the up-take.

Katie Baddock, a fourth-generation fruit and vegetable farmer in Nashdale, NSW, visits about seven different markets a month between herself, her husband, and father. None of them are accredited, and only four of them have signs that stallholders must use to identify if they are producers, farmers or resellers.

Katie acknowledges that her prices are sometimes higher, but says attending farmers markets “is extremely difficult”.

“Our overheads to get to the markets are huge. However, our produce is consistent, and our customers are buying from the real deal. And luckily we have incredible customers that really care and appreciate what we do. They prefer to give us their $$ as opposed to one of the many resellers now at farmers markets.”

While some farmers’ markets see accreditation as point of difference, others clearly don’t want to restrict their offerings and street appeal.

One respondent, thesharedtable, pointed out that many private farmers’ market operators are monopolies: “that encourage fierce competition amongst stallholders with their high rents and threat of allowing new stallholders in selling similar products”.

“High rents and over competition encourage stallholders to sell additional produce they don’t grow rather than reducing prices … Operators often turn a blind eye to the bought in produce as a full range of produce will draw more consumers, hence more rents.”

thesharedtable was also one of the only respondents to pick up on The Food Sage’s point about expensive farmers’ markets perhaps serving to further disenfranchise less fortunate demographic groups who would most benefit from fresh, unprocessed produce.

“While there is clearly a role for well-managed private farmer’s markets, there is also a need for local community-based farmer’s markets where local growers can sell their produce at affordable prices to the local community,” thesharedtable said.

“Access to affordable fresh produce needs to be recognised as a community health issue. There appears to be government failure in this regard with local councils’ primary contribution to health being through the provision of recreational facilities.”

While many farmers’ markets are not entirely the real deal, one reader, Greg, suggested that they were better than nothing, and serviced a need in the community.

“You can’t complain about not having genuine farmers if there simply aren’t enough to fill the stalls. The problem isn’t that farmers’ markets are over-priced … it’s that there simply aren’t enough small growers left to fill the demand,” he said.

“For farmer’s markets to survive, or get off the ground, they’re relaxing the rules a bit – letting in a few retailers who buy at the wholesale markets. It’s not a real farmers’ market I agree, (and I want real farmers markets), buts it’s a market after all.

Lizzy from the blog Bizzy Lizzy Cooks Good Things pointed out that the farmers’ market she visits may be dearer than the supermarket for many items: “but I find that things keep much better due to their freshness.”

A number of readers said it was up to the consumer to question stallholders and to decide which ones to support. Alison from the blog This Blooming Life  said:

“For me, I shop at the little stalls, the people who I know are genuine growers. My meat comes almost solely direct from the producers. Lamb is bought whole from a local farmer who exclusively sells direct and sends email updates to keep his city customers part of the farming loop. And this is where I firmly believe that markets are worth their weight in gold. Customers become an active part of the growing process…”

Interestingly, Tiki19 pointed out the new market trend is swaps:

“garden swaps, vegie swaps, bring-your-bike-and-share-repair-skills swaps, clothes swaps. All you need are a few friends and neighbours and you’ve got genuine local provenance.”

Have you come across such a swap? If so, tell us about it.

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6 Comments

Filed under Produce, Question of the week, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Are farmers’ markets an over-priced, middle class minority interest? Answer of the week.

  1. A great way to bring together different thoughts in a post. Love it!

  2. just for a laugh…the farmers’ markets song from armstrong and miller

  3. As the CEO of the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association, I wanted to clarify a couple of things that have been raised in response to your Question and answer of the Week – Have farmers’ markets become over-priced middle class minority interests?. Firstly, Victoria is the only state with an independent accreditation program, so the NSW farmer would only be attending accredited markets if they were traveling to Victorian markets from close to the border. The accreditation program first became available in 2010, with 18 markets accredited by December 2011 and 32 by December 2012 – and more since. There are over 500 producers accredited under the program which verifies that the people selling produce at farmers’ markets are the people who made or grew it. While there is still plenty of room for growth, the 80% increase in 12 months is significant. You can find more info on the accreditation program on our website http://www.vicfarmersmarkets.org.au. We often hear from our members that their experience at accredited markets is far more positive at other markets. In many cases, at accredited farmers’ markets, sales are higher with the atmosphere more positive and community driven with a broad customer group that supports and values the producers and the benefits of buying direct.
    On the perception of farmers’ markets being overpriced – we find that produce in season is usually very reasonably priced. Last weekend, I saw tomatoes ranging in price from $3 per kilo to $10 per kilo for the colourful large heirlooms. While $10 isn’t for everyone, a mix of the cheaper ones for cooking and just a couple of the heirlooms (that simply wouldn’t withstand the travel involved in the wholesale system) for an incredible salad is well within the reach of many. This is why, in my spare time I am experimenting on my own family to prove my belief that average Australians can afford to shop at farmers’ markets. You can find more info on that at http://www.wordpress.ourfoodroots.com.
    Also with regards to price, I think it’s important you take into account what you are buying. A free range, organic chicken at a farmers’ market will be more expensive than factory farmed chicken in a supermarket. But isn’t it better we eat a well-raised bird grown with integrity less often, rather than cheap factory farmed foods everyday? Instead of eating chicken four times a week, why not have well raised chicken once a fortnight?
    Take beef as another example. At farmers’ markets, growers are selling the whole beast, including less popular, less expensive cuts. So in fact farmers’ markets provide price sensitive consumers access to grass fed, free range meats. In supermarkets these products are often unavailable – so the consumer doesn’t even have the opportunity to buy them regardless of their budgets.
    Finally if we look at artisan products like bread, again it’s important to look at the products we are comparing. Yes a loaf of organic sourdough is going to be more expensive than a factory produced loaf in a supermarket, but how much better is it for you?

    Thanks for inspiring the conversation.

    • Thanks Sam for your very detailed response. The question certainly raised a very interesting discussion and many of the responses – your’s included – provided a lot of food for thought. The Victorian markets seem to be leading the charge on the accreditation front.
      I look forward to checking out your blog. Stay in touch.

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