Farmers market, or flea market?
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent August 10, 2012 4:55PM
Various fruits and vegetables from Reggie's Veggies in Kouts sit for sale at the Hobart Farmers Market at Festival Park Thursday afternoon. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 12, 2012 6:01AM
Many of today’s farmers markets are taking a different spin — less farm and more market.
Intermingled with zucchinis, peppers and sweet corn are jewelry, artisan breads, doggie treats and other wares, whose vendors together often heavily outweigh the number of local farmers at markets in Northwest Indiana and across the country.
Market operators say they are striving for more variety and less redundancy, adding there are plenty of farmers on their vendor list to accommodate customers.
But some farmers and their advocates say many operators have strict rules that place limitations on the number of farmers who can participate in the markets, helping the established farmer make more revenue but eliminating the opportunity for newcomers to become a part of the venues that were originally established for them.
Jerry Roedel, a Valparaiso resident who sells his homegrown shiitake mushrooms at several local venues, offered a mixed view of the changes.
“You need a balance of produce, nice crafts and food. But some markets look like a yard sale,” Roedel, owner of Living Earth Farms, said.
All in the name
According to the farmers advocacy group, the Farmers Market Coalition, farmers markets need to “implement rules/guidelines of operation that ensure that the farmers market consists principally of farms selling directly to the public products that the farms have produced.”
But that rule is eroding with more markets expanding their list of appropriate sellers, including produce wholesalers and even grocery chains.
And with more markets leaving the word farm out of its name.
“We never intended to be a farmers market. Our goal was to be like a traditional European market, a one-stop shop,” said Allyson Baughman, director of marketing for the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce, which runs the Chesterton European Market, the largest market in Northwest Indiana.
Of the 90 vendors listed for the July 28 market, only a handful were farmers. Others included a knife sharpener, artisan bread seller, an acupuncturist and a winery.
Baughman said there are seven farmers at the market, but admitted they have to turn down several organic farms each year as they allow only so many vendors in each category.
“We don’t feel we’re big enough to accommodate any more farmers,” she said.
Roedel said he was allowed to sell only his mushrooms in Chesterton, but sells other produce at markets in Munster and Schererville.
In Hobart, special events coordinator Raeann Trakas said they call their weekly market Summer Market on the Lake to reflect the variety of vendors.
Trakas said Reggie’s Veggies in Kouts brings herbs, plantings and dried gourds; Verduzco Farms in Hobart sells watermelon, cantaloupe, corn, onions and other produce grown on their farm; and Roasted Cherry Farms in Union Mills started with strawberries and is now bringing a variety of greens and vegetables. A new vendor, Lettuce Leaf, of Hobart, sells organic produce, and another vendor from Valparaiso sells honey harvested from its hives at home.
But the Hobart market also has a wholesale produce vendor that has a large following, a jewelry seller, people who sell home party items and those who sell cooked meals, which are also a big draw.
Other markets have kept farmers in their name though they have expanded to include crafts, baked goods, preserves and other items.
Reasons for change
There could be another reasons why there might be fewer farmers at a farmers markets — fewer interested farmers.
Emma Alkire, a board member with Indiana Farm Market Association, associated with Purdue University Lafayette, said it could be more cost effective for a farmer to set up a stand at his or her property or on a roadside, if it is on a road that sees a lot of traffic. “It takes a long time to make a profit at farmers markets,” she said.
Erin Barnett, director of Local Harvest, an organic farms advocacy group, said the popularity of farmers markets and their growing numbers are making it difficult for communities to compete for the farmers in their area.
“If it is a small market, or one where more people come to browse than to buy, the farmers may pass it over in favor of a more lucrative one if one is available,” she said.
Barnett also pointed to the limits placed by some markets, which she feels can be restrictive.
“Farmers markets, in my experience, are surprisingly political and changing things can be quite difficult. ... The limits tend to work best for the farmers who are already in and to be frustrating for the newer farmers who want to gain access to the market but are being denied by the rules. I have heard of some markets that have a several year wait to gain entrance,” Barnett said.
Roedel has felt the brunt of limits. He said he was turned down by two area markets because they already had people selling the same produce, and was limited just to his mushrooms in Chesterton.
But he said he sees both sides to this rule.
“Someone could have a lot of customers at a particular market, then someone new comes in and undercuts them,” he said
One thing is certain — it’s not a perceived dwindling interest in the popularity of fresh produce that is causing the face of the farmers market to change, organizers and customers agree.
“We basically come for the produce. I like that this is held on a weekday and that this is local people,” Gwen Graf, of Valparaiso, said while shopping at Valparaiso’s downtown market on a recent Tuesday afternoon.
“Produce continues to be a big draw for some people. A lot of people come in first thing in the morning, buy produce and get out,” Baughman said of Chesterton’s European Market.
Hobart’s Trakas concurs. She said when the market first opened for the season some customers were wondering where the local produce was. She had to explain to them that they weren’t ready yet, but would be later in the summer.
Valparaiso’s Marika Pierson is proof that people go to different markets for different reasons and one reason why vendors should choose their market carefully.
“I come to this market (Valparaiso’s downtown market) on Tuesday to get fresh produce to cook for the week and fresh flowers for my table. I go to Chesterton to eat and check out crafts,” she said.