|Shopping in Switzerland|
Here at Swede Farm we have noticed an overall decline in market sales for the past two years. This decline holds true for markets in Houston and in Austin, large markets and small, weekend markets or week day markets. When we speak to other farmers and market vendors, they report a similar trend in market sales. One conjectured that it was due to the proliferation of farmers markets in the city, noting that it was with the expansion of markets that their income dropped an average of 30%. Market managers note that the cities being served should be able to handle an abundance of markets. They point to the population of Austin and Houston, they note the demographics; well educated consumers with disposable income, and conclude that Texas cities should see thriving markets in all areas, on all days of the week. Ironically, these same market managers comment that their markets are down--and they point to the growing number of markets as the reason for why the numbers are down.
The truth is, though, that most of these markets are small, falter early on and rarely thrive past the first two years.
The truth is, that these vendors are in multiple markets. Each time a market opens, the farmer or prepared food vendor stretches to be in the new market as well as their old markets. If sales are down at one market due to the opening of a new market, the decrease of sales at the established market should be made up by sales at the new market--yet this is not happening.
Markets are not failing everywhere, our travels have confirmed this fact. Over the past two years, we have been able to visit markets in multiple cities in the United States, from New York City to San Francisco and others scattered between the two. We have shopped in markets in England, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain. We have seen thriving farmers markets of all sizes and in varying kinds of neighborhoods. There are a few key factors that we have noted that seem to differentiate Texas markets from the thriving East and West coast markets. We believe that these differences create a challenge that Texas markets must address in order to not only survive but also thrive.
While there have obviously been farmers markets in American from the earliest days of the nation, the modern farmers market movement is fairly young. The proliferation of farmers markets across the country can be traced in large part to the growing awareness of a need for sustainable local food systems. Consumer awareness was captured by books such as The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (2006) and films such as "Food, Inc", directed by Robert Kenner. This joint awareness of the importance of local foods and the pitfalls of factory farming were a boon for farmers who were looking for another way of doing business. The growing local food movement inspired many to leave their corporate jobs in order to be a part of the new movement. Some of these adherents gained the courage to begin their own sustainable farms, while others committed themselves to organizations such as Sustainable Food Center and GrowNYC that seek to establish new and functional food infrastructures. Consumers, informed of the impact of "factory farms"and desirous of supporting local businesses sought other ways of shopping, searching out farmers markets, shopping directly at farms and becoming involved in a CSA program. As new farmers markets emerge and (hopefully) grow, the supporting organizations travel to places such as New York City and San Francisco in order to "see how it's done". Unfortunately, while these vaunted market systems are inspiring, they provide a model that may not be one that can be replicated in Texas.
|Buying from friend Lynn of Lynnhaven Farm in Brooklyn|
their local farmers markets. Both cities (and others with highly touted farmers markets such as Portland, OR and Seattle, WA) have metropolitan areas with land areas ranging from 84 square miles (Seattle) to 302 square miles (NYC). Houston and the Dallas/Forth Worth metropolitan areas begin at a hair under 600 square miles for Houston and over 600 square miles for the
|Market in Leipzig, Germany|
If the challenges facing farmers markets in the larger cities such as Houston and Dallas are apparently immutable issues such as sprawling cities and lack of acceptance of public transportation leading to different shopping habits, is there any hope to be found for farmers markets? Does this necessarily mean that farmers markets are doomed to be sub-par in our larger cities?
We do not believe this to be the case--provided the systems set up to support local farms and farmers markets recognizes the differences between Houston and New York City. Addressing the challenges faced by our larger cities will require the courage to admit that Houston is not NYC, nor is it San Francisco. Markets will succeed when we embrace a Texas-style ingenuity and flexibility to get the job done. Standards need to change, expectations need to change, rules and regulations need to change. In addition to the issues hobbling our markets, we have competition drawing away our educated consumers who desire to support the markets. We need a two pronged approach to solving the problem. First we need to recognize the strengths of the competition and adapt to better compete and secondly we need to reassess what will make a successful TEXAS farmers market system.
This is what we will be discussing with the next blog post. As always, please chime in with your perspectives and solutions. We need to implement changes that will make the situation better for everyone.
*Size of cities based on information found at this site.