Over the last decade, the number of Farmers' Markets in this country has increased by nearly 80%. One reason for their popularity, of course, is the fresh food and charm of the markets, but it also affords you direct contact with people who grow the food. Economically, they benefit farmers, neighborhood stores and the entire community. As part of Making Change; Reinventing Our Economy, ideastream's Shula Neuman explains how one woman's quest for fresh food had a ripple effect on the entire region.
Shula Neuman: It's a Saturday morning in Shaker Square. Cold, kind of wet, gray skies. But the sidewalks are filled of people milling about, checking out the goodies that local farmers, bakers and artisans have brought to the weekly North Union Farmers Market.
Sue Peay: People are here at seven o'clock in the morning fighting for the first mushrooms, the first tomatoes, the first everything.
SN: Market regular Sue Peay doesn't literally mean people are fighting; it's more like a friendly competition. Peay says she loves getting to know the farmers and the other shoppers while benefiting from locally grown, often organic food. For Peay, it started with buying the produce, then the cheeses, then the meat.
SP: It just explodes and then pretty soon it gets to be a way of life. And then you can't eat all that stuff that's been sprinkled. Once you get used to this you just can't eat those little carrots in those little bags any more. Have you tried the cottage cheese?
SN: OK, so on the one hand farmers' markets are paradise for foodies like Peay. On the other hand, they're a big boost to the salary of the farmers who sell their goods at the market. Mike Hamper, for example, tended his farm in Jefferson, Ohio for 15 years while holding down a job as a computer programmer. Hamper was one of the pioneer vendors at Shaker Square's market 8 years ago. He's since quit his day job and finds that growing produce has taken over.
Mike Hamper: It's a way of life, we've been doing it all along. And I'm healthy. And I can do this probably until I'm 75, 80 years old. I won't be doing it at the same scale. And to me that's a really good benefit. SN: Hamper, his peers and the market's patrons can all thank Donita Andersen for providing a place where farmers vend directly to customers.
Donita Andersen: My mission in life is to make sure that they go home with empty trucks, and to fill my refrigerator.
SN: In fact, it really was the quest for locally grown, organic food for her children that was the impetus for the North Union Farmer's Market. Andersen says when the kids started griping about the long drives out to the country, She decided-with the help of a few friends-that it was time to bring the farmers to the city. There was resistance at first. Anderson says, it required educating the farmers and keeping her fingers in a lot of pots at once.
DA: It's a mix. It's very touchy. You have to be really in touch with a lot of things at once. Wary of what the public's needs are, what they want; that the farmer is bringing it; that their presentation is appealing 'cause they've worked hard. Eighteen hours in the field the day before and a lot of times, they don't think about set up.
SN: These days she doesn't have to convince farmers that selling at the market is good business. According to a study from Tufts University, farmer's market customers spend an average of $17 per visit. Multiply that by the 1,000-3,000 that pass through every week and... well, it adds up.
And it goes beyond the farmers, too. Although no studies have been done that try to define the exact economic impact of farmers' markets, local shop owners in Shaker Square didn't need studies to tell them it would pay to open early on market days. But don't get too excited about the economic benefits of Farmers Markets, says David Kraybill, professor of regional and community economics at Ohio State University. He says they're definitely good news but there is a downside.
David Kraybill: And it's very easy to look at the dollar spent at the farmer's market and forget the fact that that's a dollar that's probably not going to be spent somewhere else within the region. So, this substitution between farmers markets and supermarket purchases tends to mitigate, lower somewhat the economic impact of farmers markets.
SN: Not that local grocers are in danger of laying off workers because of the North Union Market, but farmers' markets are increasing in popularity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are more than 3,100 of them in the country - that's up 79% from a decade ago. Kraybill says people enjoy them as much for the shopping experience as for the food, although for many people - like Parker Bosley, owner and Chef of Parker's New American Bistro in Ohio City - it will always be about the food.
Parker Bosley: You're going to have to make more phone calls to get your product. You're going to have to have a more flexible kitchen and menu because if you depend on the seasons and nature, you know, you're not always the boss. So you might have to make three calls to find out who has green beans, who has the lettuce. And back and forth and so forth.
SN: For Bosley's customers, the extra effort is worth it for food that they know comes from their own region and is tasty too. And if it benefits the local economy, all the better.
PBo: What's on the menu tonight? We're going to have tonight one special which is soup made of Jerusalem artichokes. And we bought these at the farmer's market of course.
SN: In Cleveland, Shula Neuman, 90.3.
The North Union Farmers Market is on Shaker Square Saturdays from 7 am to noon from April through December. The last day of the 2002 market will be this Saturday, December 14. For more information, people can contact the market's public relations director. Her name is Janice Xinakes-Harris and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.