I took a quick pulse of farmers' markets this week to see how well they are holding up in our prolonged economic malaise. Quick answer? Better than most.
Like everything else in this modern world, the natural & organic market continues to get more and more complex as consumer interest in food sourcing continues to rise. I found evidence of this complexity in regional differences in sales performance, in buying patterns shifting from produce to meats, in the ongoing burdens of organic certification that drive farmers into the all-natural camp.
Here in Colorado, life seems pretty good. Natalie Condon of Isabelle Farm makes more on one Saturday in April at the Boulder Farmers' Market than she would in a whole July at a host of smaller operations. Sales are strong year-over-year, and the waiting list for her farm's CSA runs 60 deep. At Ela Family Farms, their farmers' market business continues to grow at a strong pace. "The satisfaction for a consumer is extremely high at a farmers' market," says Lynea Shultz-Ela. This speaks volumes about the power of a direct-sales approach when it comes to farmers' markets, co-ops and CSAs.
When a consumer (an eater) and a supplier (a grower) get to shake hands and swap questions before swapping money for food, a personal connection forms that colors every aspect of that sale. There is an immediacay to the transaction that eliminates so much of the cynicism that might enter into more conventional, mass-market sales transactions. Sure, the scale is smaller and choice is limited, but that's the point. These are direct sales that trigger our impulses for a simpler, more traditional sort of commerce. It can be downright nostalgic. Very little about today's economy has done as much to lift a consumer's purchasing spirit as the dirt on a farmer's fingernails as she hands you a fresh bunch of collards.
This is a small slice -- the Organic Trade Association quantifies direct sales of organic foods through farmers’ markets, CSAs and co-ops at $719 million in 2009 -- of a bigger and bigger pie, but an important one. The fact that sales seem to be holding steady and, in some cases, growing should make us all feel a little better about the road ahead.
For more detailed analysis of direct-to-consumer sales across the nutrition industry, don't miss Nutrition Business Journal’s next issue, available in late May. You can always subscribe to the journal via the NBJ Website. We'd also love to hear your comments and stories below.
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