Farmers markets are hotter than ever before. According to the USDA’s national directory of these markets, the number has nearly doubled to 8,553 in the past decade. But according to a recent Washington Post report, the growth in the popularity of farmers markets is resulting in an unlikely casualty: the sales of actual farmers.
As the Post’s Tim Carman astutely observes, one of the central problems is that the “contemporary farmers market … has evolved to meet the needs of a new generation of shoppers who view these outdoor markets as more a lifestyle choice than an opportunity to support local agriculture.” What that often means is that customers show up to farmers markets more for the purveyors of trendy street food and artisanal distillers who are also making camp among the pop-up tents than for tomatoes and kale. Additionally, though farmers markets used to be the only game in town when it came to things like organic fruits and vegetables, produce sellers now face competition from a crowded marketplace that not only includes other farmers markets, but also upmarket retailers like Whole Foods and delivery services who will gladly bring topnotch produce to your door. The ironic result: Although organizations like FreshFarm Markets, a non-profit that runs 13 farmers markets around the DC area, are seeing a sales jump of 25 percent so far this year compared to last, “overall produce growers [sales] are flat, some up and some down,” says executive director Mike Koch.