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Conference: Demand for farmers’ markets increasing
By NANCY VORIS
Indiana Correspondent

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — “WANTED: A few good farmers to produce wholesome fruits, vegetables and other farm products to meet increasing demand from public.”

Consumers may not see this ad in the local newspaper, but it’s a fact.

The popularity of farmers’ markets – as a source of farm-fresh produce and meats and as a social mecca where the community meets for fun and entertainment – has left market masters with a dilemma. There just doesn’t seem to be enough farmers to go around.

Farmers’ markets are springing up everywhere as the golden egg that brings economic revitalization, tourism and good nutrition in a fast-food world. A farmers’ market workshop last week brought together dozens of people interested in starting or growing farmers’ markets, but not as many producers who will grow the food.

What happens when several markets open in an area where only a handful of producers are available?

Scott and Nikki Royer of Clinton, Ind. have found that selling farm-fresh beef and lamb at farmers’ markets to be their saving grace in keeping their fifth-generation family farm in operation.

Though they live near the Illinois border, the Royers load coolers and set up at markets in Broad Ripple, Zionsville and Fishers – all Indianapolis suburbs. They also sell at the winter market in Bloomington and sell directly to some restaurants.

Last year, Royer Farm Fresh Beef and Lamb sold 16,000 pounds of beef and 7,500 pounds of lamb. The venture has enabled Nikki to quit her job to care for their twin toddler boys and Scott is down to a part-time off-farm job.

Royer said that direct marketing to consumers earns him a premium for his meat, even though marketing takes more time than if he sold his stock at the local sale barn. The couple likes the fact that they can personally provide recipe ideas, cooking hints and other extras to their customers.

“They know (our livestock) is getting no hormones and no antibiotics,” Royer said. “We can tell them everything.”

Many market masters – those who organize farmers’ markets and take care of market policy – are learning to cooperate with other markets in the area to maximize available producers.

Beth Harlin, a tourism development consultant with Harlin Group International, is developing a small farmers’ market in Plainfield on Wednesday evenings. This coincides with the Indianapolis Farmers’ Market downtown on Wednesdays ending in the afternoon, giving producers the opportunity to pack up and go to Plainfield with the remainder of their produce.

Harlin is also organizing a market every other Saturday in Plainfield at The Metropolis, a new open-air retail center, representing a trend that farmers’ markets may be moving away from traditional courthouse and fairground settings to the world of retail.

“The market masters have to create a synergy,” he said, “and look for unique solutions to the problem of finding vendors.”

Another problem facing market masters is verifying that a farmer is indeed producing the food on his farm and not purchasing it wholesale and reselling it.

Cynthia Brown is the farmer’s market manager for Findlay Market in Cincinnati. She audits every producer at their farm to verify they grew the produce or meat.

“If they’re selling a salsa, I want to know that they grew the tomatoes and peppers,” Brown said.

Nikki Longworth agrees. As executive director of the Indianapolis City Market, she manages the Wednesday Farmers’ Market and feels that resellers are cutting to the heart and integrity of farmers’ markets. “I have a passion for farming,” she said. “The reality is if you’re a small family farm, you’re not living a very plush lifestyle. At the end of the day, you have to make a profit.”

Visit the following websites for more information: www.royerfarmfresh.com, www.harlingroup.com, www.indianapoliscitymarket.com

This farm news was published in the May 31, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

5/31/2006