Farmers markets draw different customers

Farmers markets draw different customers

Farmers-MarketFarmers market managers say that while the growing season is just beginning to blossom, a wider variety of shoppers are popping up in local markets and vendors are adapting to changing customer needs, including smaller paychecks.

“It’s actually been OK,” says Eamon Molloy, manager of the Hillsdale Farmers Market. “Like everyone else, we do feel the recession. But by and large, farmers, the ones who grow the basic things we eat, are doing fine.”

Alongside the foodies and local chefs, market managers saw an increasing number of people using farmers markets for their weekly shopping in 2009, including food stamp users. Managers think this will continue this year.

Ann Forsthoefel, executive director of the Portland Farmers Market, says the market’s opening day on March 20 had the highest token sales in the market’s history. Food stamp customers use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cards to purchase tokens to use in lieu of cash for their market purchases.

Last June Molloy noticed token purchases fell 40% in between pay periods, while customer counts remained solid. Customers continued shopping at the Hillsdale market, spending their money on fruit and vegetables instead of pastries and meat.

Some of the Hillsdale vendors scaled back their prepared food inventory in the middle of the month to absorb customers’ decreased purchases. Molloy thinks markets will see more of this during the height of the 2010 market season.

“We’re probably going to see a continued trend toward people buying less prepared food and learning to make their own,” he says.

Agricultural production decreased 14% from 2008 to 2009 according to Larry Lev, a marketing economist with Oregon State University’s Extension Services.

However, his research shows farmers market sales generally remained stable throughout the state, something he attributes to a committed customer base.

“Overall, most markets held their own,” he says, noting many markets saw gains in attendance if not in sales. “That’s good in a bad year.”

COLLEEN MORAN