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Panel Discussion Reveals the Value of Farmers Markets

Panel Discussion Reveals the Value of Farmers Markets

This past weekend, I was the moderator for a panel of guests invited to discuss local food and farmers markets at the Coppell Farmers Market (CFM) for National Farmers Market Week. As we were just getting into the introductions, there was this positive wave of energy that began to enrich the conversation we were about to have in a public setting.

A quick show of hands from the audience found that two-thirds were regular weekly shoppers, with a handful of those that were original customers from the dirt parking lot days. And most admitted, laughingly, that they search out farmers markets whenever they travel. Best of all, they stayed captivated and interested during the hour-long discussion in the August heat.

 

The panel guests included (left to right) Keith Copp – long time farmer at D-Bar Farms, Amanda Austin – CFM Market Manager, Helen Duran – professional chef at CoppellISD, Amanda Vanhoozier – Just Picked TX, John Dumas – entrepreneur owner of Pop Star Handcrafted Popsicles, Joe Baker – professional chef of Joe the Baker, Sue Newhouse – niche farmer at Aunt Sue’s Barn. What was interesting as each offered their perspective, there was a collective realization that a farmers market is so much greater than the sum of the parts.

Discussion Points:

Buying from local farms and vendors have an important role in our food system, what do you see are the meaningful impacts and benefits for the community?

  • Have a personal relationship with those that produce your food. Vendors can share how it was made or grown and customers can help customize products with feedback.
  • Provide education for what is in season, how to cook, how to grow. Especially important for children to learn with their families and the gardens at schools and the farmers market. “Help kids understand where real food comes from and how good it is supposed to taste is tremendously important work and it’s great that there is space and support for that here.” Chef Helen Duran
  • Access to fresh food with an emphasis on harvested or made especially for the customers. A farmers market can be a grocery store when there is a good mix of food vendors.  Look for farmers markets that accept SNAP, the Texas Lone Star Cards.  “Our only trip to a grocery store in a dart in and out as we shop weekly at the Coppell Farmers Market.” – Lynette Fortson, customer and committee member.
  • Provides a local and stronger economy where the dollars spent goes back into the system.
  • Community support is needed to make the farmers market viable.

What opportunities are present for you/business by participating in farmers markets?

  • A reasonably priced entry point into the market to get known to the public and much stronger than a retail space. “I don’t think we’d be here today if it weren’t for the opportunity we’ve had at farmers markets.” – John Dumas
  • Year-round markets allow farm to keep employees, instead of new recruiting and training.
  • Build business with the relationships developed between customers and other vendors.  (within minutes before the panel started I heard these two connections: Sue with Joe about delivery of a flat of raspberries for his pastries and Keith with Helen about how to become a farm vendor with the schools)
  • Collective marketing – connected with the farmers market and the other vendors is better than being solely promoting your products.

There has been changes in the local food landscape, what are the issues and challenges for farmers markets?

  • There are many markets asking for vendors to leave and go to them – “I don’t know if people realize how competitive markets are. We get recruited by different markets all the time. The loyalty to this market is because of the support it has.” Sue Newhouse
  • Since retail businesses need more people, they think adding a farmers market to a shopping area or development is the answer. This model has different values than a community based farmers market.
  • Getting people to understand and know what grows around here and what is in season.
  • Must have consistent market management. “I want to give recognition to Coppell for fostering the farmers market. It’s recognized as one of the best nationally and wouldn’t exist without this ecosystem of community support.”Joe the Baker

What would be the one tip you would give to shoppers at farmers markets?

  • Make sure the farmers market is a producer only market where these values align.
  • Come early to shop for the widest selection.  There are lines for a reason.
  • Ask vendors and management for what you are looking for at the market.  Farmers Markets will reflect their community over time.
  • Build relationships and ask questions. Most booths are run by the owners who are very knowledgeable and helpful.
  • Encourage your friends and families to come shop at the farmers market.  Spread your passion for eating local.

Photo credits: Marilyn Horton, CFM committee

Add a comment below to continue the conversation!  Thanks, Amanda V. at Just Picked TX