As a farmer who attends several different markets around the Washington, D.C. area each weekend, I’m constantly amazed by the dedication and passion of our customers. The special relationship between farmer and patron can be difficult to understand for those who shop at conventional grocery stores. For loyal customers, supporting one’s farmers market is often a reflection of their core values, akin to a personal mission statement.
Over the years, customers have asked me what they can do to help their community farmers market, beyond simply shopping each week. They want to help their market remain a vibrant, sustainable part of the community. The following is a list of five ideas, in no special order, that would definitely help out your nearby farmers market.
1) Volunteer your time. You’re probably a lot more talented than you give yourself credit for. Do you know how to manage a
website? Ever utilize social media, such as Facebook and Twitter? Approach your market manager, and offer your technology services. Perhaps you have experience writing grants; there are many wonderful grant opportunities available to help promote your market. What about offering to set up traffic cones and market signs each morning? You could also coordinate a special market event once a year (Tomato Palooza 2012, anyone?), and prepare a press release for the media. Even something as simple as helping an older farmer put away their produce at the end of market might be greatly appreciated. More than likely, you’ll be rewarded with a nice bag of lettuce for your assistance.
2) Glean. It’s rare for a farmer to sell out of everything each week. Sometimes, Mother Nature is especially generous, and an entire crop might come into season all within a week. When this happens (and it does
happen), it might be too much for the grower to sell. Talk to your farmers in advance, and learn which farms might be interested in donating their leftover food to area food banks and community shelters. Take time to contact these food banks and shelters, creating a ‘short-notice’ network. Give the farmer your contact information, and have them call you when they have lots of food left over. Be ready for the phone call in advance (this means keeping the hour or two after farmers market each week flexible in your schedule), with reliable transportation and an extra set of helping hands if necessary. When called upon, you’ll be creating a win-win for both the farmer and the community.
3) Start a Complimentary Business. Ever dream of participating in your local farmers market, but don’t have a green thumb? There are lots of ways you can help your market, while perhaps launching a career or side
business for yourself. Food trucks, featuring produce straight from the market itself, are a great way to promote the amazing produce. You might launch a buying club for those who can’t make it to market on the weekend, making deliveries during the week. Cooking demonstrations, featuring different ingredients from a new farm each week, could be a great way to promote your culinary skills, and would make a nice segue into a personal chef business. Or, once a month, organize a walking tour of the market for new customers, stopping at each stand and providing a brief description of the farm, highlighting what the farmer has to offer across the course of the season.
4) Community Outreach. Certain segments of your community might not even know your farmers market exists. Does the market have the technology to accept SNAP benefits? One out of every eight Americans currently rely on SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), and farmers markets across the country are making shopping with SNAP & WIC (Women, Infants and Children) easier than ever. For a great overview, watch this film from Eat Fresh Maryland here: Video. In fact, Wholesome Wave has implemented an amazing ‘Double Value Coupon Program’, which adds even more purchasing power to SNAP (learn more here: Wholesome Wave). Do you know someone who might benefit by using their WIC and SNAP at farmers markets? Educating groups about the merits of shopping at farmers market could be a surprisingly rewarding use of your time.
5) Shop In The Rain. Okay, this last one might seem a little dreary, but much like April showers leading to May flowers, coming out in inclement weather really helps your local market remain vibrant. Rainy weekends are notoriously bad sales days for farmers
markets. Imagine you’ve spent the entire season planting, pruning and picking a truck load of blueberries, only to have them languish because of a drizzly Saturday forecast. Weekly cash flow is critical for farmers. Many of them live week to week, barely keeping ahead of the bills. Taking a ‘zero’ one weekend isn’t just painful, it can sometimes be economically catastrophic. As a helpful reminder to shop in the rain, buy yourself a special ‘Farmers Market Umbrella,’ and keep it in your car, or by the front door. That way, you’ll be extra motivated to get out there when your farmers need you the most. Believe me, they will be very grateful to see you!