By John Schlageck
In communities across America, farmers’ markets continue to offer homegrown and homemade products – everything from freshly picked fruits and vegetables to mouthwatering baked goods, fresh eggs, beef, lamb, pork, colorful flower arrangements and assorted bedding plants.
In 2017, there were 8,687 farmers' markets listed in the Agriculture Department’s National Farmers Market Directory. In Kansas, 94 farmers’ markets are registered in the “From the Land of Kansas” program, with probably another 20 to 30 probably scattered throughout the state.
This access to fresh food and the joy of connecting with a farmer or rancher is something that is resonating with more and more people. Key here is the opportunity for consumers to talk to the people producing their food.
Farmers like markets because they can sell their home-produced products directly to consumers with no middleman. Farmers’ markets are unique because the producer is also the marketer.
In most phases of production agriculture, the producer rarely has a chance to participate in this level of direct selling. If a farmer grows wheat for example, he can sell it to a broker but has no control over price. In a farmers’ market he can set the price and negotiate with customers.
Farmers’ markets are popular with a wide range of consumers. In university towns, international students, accustomed to shopping in markets rather than grocery stores, frequent these establishments. Senior citizens are often also regular customers.
Markets are also popular with people who have been transplanted from rural to urban areas. Folks who were raised in rural areas like to keep that connection with the farm.
Without a doubt, farmers’ markets are a community event and a place to socialize. Many shoppers rise early in the morning, so they can talk to people and sometimes more importantly secure the best produce. As the old saying goes, the early bird gets the worm.
Shopping at an outdoor venue is also just more fun. There’s nothing like an open-air venue for fresh, healthy food.
And after a recent trip I took a couple weeks ago, I listened as a younger shopper told me it’s a serious part of a socially responsible life.
“I’m buying from people in my own community,” she informed me. “I’m supporting people who I live with.”
Farmers’ markets are also family affairs. Kids are as much a part of the scene as the vendors and customers. In case you hadn’t noticed, kids like to eat too, and they know what they like.
And for the children who help their parents sell products, it’s a primary learning experience. I’ve seen many a second- or third-grader making change as Mom hands over the produce.
The friendly relationship between buyers and sellers, the festive atmosphere and the quality produce all make the farmers’ market a popular community event.
While I go to the market mainly for juicy, mouth-watering tomatoes and fresh, brown farm eggs, I sometimes find a real treat, something I haven’t bargained for or something my wife or I can’t replicate at home.
One of my favorite purchases at the downtown Manhattan, Kansas, farmers’ market is homemade tamales and salsa. English shelling peas are another treat. Talk about wonderful.
You know, I’d visit our farmers’ market even if I didn’t buy something, but that’ll never happen because I love to eat too much.
I just like being there. It’s the best show in town.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion. This column was adopted from an Insight column published by Kansas Farm Bureau.