I asked for your thoughts last week. I got a lot of feedback - thank you! - from mostly those of you who already grocery shop with us on a weekly basis. I would have loved to hear from some of our more casual, infrequent shoppers. I'm still all ears if you'd care to put your two cents in.
There is never one simple answer to a complex problem, but I think it boils down to largely one thing: there are simply too many farmers markets in our wider community. The number of markets have doubled in the past ten years, and someone is still forever trying to create new ones in every untouched corner. Everyone wants a market they can get to within walking distance or a few minutes' drive from their home. That's just not feasible.
There are not enough farmers to supply all these small local markets. There are not enough patrons to supply all these small local markets. The market customer shows up, expecting a dazzling array of produce, meats, bread, cheese, and more. The farmer, who spent months in advance growing and preparing those items, the farmer who labored an 18-hour day the day before and stayed up til midnight making sure all was in order, the farmer who drove a long distance into town to get to the market, began to set up at 6am, and paid for the privilege of selling for four short hours, must have more than a handful of market patrons come buy their product in order to make all of that worthwhile.
The one comment I heard from those of you who responded was "we want to see more produce, more food vendors." I have repeatedly seen markets try to grow by adding additional farms and food vendors, only to watch most of them vanish within a few weeks or months because they are not pulling in the profits they need. This is a tough business. I desperately want to see the number of markets in Wake County downsized. And please, for the love of carrots, stop opening new ones. Tighten it up and run them well, and the customer will be happy, and the farmer will survive.
The article in the paper suggested that the boom days of farmers markets are over, and farmers need to diversify in order to stay in business. We always have. It is never a wise thing to put all your eggs in one basket, literally or proverbially. A small farm will lose money hand over fist wholesaling to grocery stores. The restaurant trade infuriates me - chefs want my best quality produce for the least amount of money, will never order consistently, and need the product delivered on a whim and a moment's notice to boot. I understand why, I've worked in restaurants before, but I can't do that. I love our CSA members, but we are forever shaving many tiny profits off the top with those discounts.
Farmers markets - strong, vibrant ones - remain our most profitable venue. And even then we aren't exactly making a killing selling lettuce and tomatoes. I don't do this for the money. I do need to make a living. It's still a business, and I need to turn a profit to remain viable.
I will leave you with my favorite response that I received last week (edited for brevity):
I LOVE the North Hills market. I am incredibly grateful to know the people who raise the plants and animals I eat. I cook almost all of our meals, and the freshness and quality can't be beat, but that's not why I do it (although it helps!). I do it because it feeds my soul as well as my body. It gives me joy to support my local community and people who grow food. It kills me how little respect farmers get in our culture at large when they (you) are quite literally responsible for keeping our bodies alive. And how people nickle and dime when it comes to food. It's going in your body. It's nourishing you and keeping you alive. Can people seriously not value that? I honestly don't think food costs enough. And I will always go to the market to buy food, not because it's a lifestyle choice or to socialize.
I think you and our community of farmers at the NH market are so wonderful, and I hope SO MUCH that the trend you're seeing from the article doesn't impact you in a negative way.
And very sincerely, thank you.
And thank you. We hope to keep seeing you out there.