Spring brings farmers market season
Virginia farmers markets continue to expand as customer demand for local food grows.
There are now over 350 farmers markets in Virginia, according to the Virginia Farmers Market Association. “This amazing growth is testament to the value people find in supporting local farmers, fresh wholesome food and thriving rural economies,” noted Molly Harris, project manager for the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture Innovation and Rural Sustainability.
Josie Showalter, manager of the Harrisonburg Farmers Market, concurred. “People are committed to local food. We have an amazing customer base. Some drive an hour or more to visit the market,” she remarked.
Showalter said vendors currently are selling a variety of produce, fruits, baked goods, meats, eggs and prepared foods. “Right now, the market has beautiful bedding plants and cut flowers, along with carrots, greens, spring onions and new potatoes.”
The market started in 2007, and by 2013 vendor numbers had exploded. Now it has leveled out, with 60 to 70 vendors. By mid-summer, Showalter expects all vendor spaces to be full.
As the demand for local food grows, so do the outlets where it is sold.
Because local food is now sold at grocery stores, the Fluvanna Farmer’s Market has experienced a slight decrease in the number of visitors this year.
“Customers are very interested in buying local,” said market manager Brenda Moore. “However, because more stores near us are selling local produce, it might have taken a bite out of our crowd, even though shoppers are probably paying more than if they were buying directly from area farmers.”
As the weather improves and more products become available, Moore expects the market crowds to grow.
“Our customers like having more vendors and more choices. Even if they are looking for tomatoes. Some want heirlooms, some want canning and some want summer tomatoes,” Moore added.
The Blacksburg Farmers Market has eight new vendors signed up this season, and its sales have increased as well.
“Vendor sales are rising at about 16% annually,” remarked market director Ian Littlejohn. “We believe that attendance closely follows this trend. We average 35,000-40,000 visitors annually.”
He added that people are looking for healthy foods, and the market carries a wide variety of fresh farm products. “Folks are definitely shopping locally more often. Sustainability is also a priority for more people.”