Eugene finishing setting up the market stand. We brought a lot of lettuce, that's what's in most of the bags.Yesterday was farmers market day in Oxford (as well as Miami U's graduation-congrats to any graduates who are reading this). It was a beautiful sunny morning but the market was pretty dead early on. And even in mid morning when the attendance got better not a lot of produce was selling.
The market had 27 vendors yesterday and only 2 of us, Locust Run and Boulder Belt, were selling vegetables plus Downing's which has cider and apple butter and will soon have fruits and veggies. We also had two meat vendors, 5 people selling plants and 1 selling goat cheese. So we have 11 farmer types selling at this market out of 27, a farming minority at the farmers market. You would think that with so few produce vendors at this market we would both sell out. That did not happen for any of us. All of us took quite a bit of produce home. I did hear the craft people did great sales, though.
I have noticed since last year when several people on the board decided that there should be more crafters at this market (which I hesitate to call a farmers market any longer) the ratio of craft people and bakers to farmers is skewed away from this market being farmer friendly. When I helped to create this market we established a rule that there could be one craft vendor for every 5 (or maybe 7) farmers. We made this rule to ensure that this farmers market would be a FARMER'S market and not be taken over by the arts and crafts crowd. Last year with a new bunch of people on the board that rule was tossed out and "Artist Alley" was created. Now we had a market that had about as many crafters as farmers. Not a good trend in my mind, and I did question this move with several board members and felt like I was blown off by them.
Move forward to 2008 and now we have more crafters than farmers and we also have space issues in the spot where the market is held due to a building going up next door. This has lost us about 7 spaces. So far this season every space has been filled and I know that there are at least 4 farmers who will be coming in later on this season. Will the board tell the crafters there is no space for them (after they have paid their annual fee?) or will the growers be left out? It's gotta go one way or the other (unless the market is moved to larger quarters) because space is very limited.
My issue is that we created a market for farmers to sell their wares when the Oxford Uptown farmers market was born. And now it seems that this market is becoming a weekly craft show. I have read of several markets that went this direction and eventually the farmers were kicked out. I do not want this to happen in Oxford. I do know when you have too many crafters people going to the market start spending their money on the craft items and do not spend their money with the farmers and quickly the situation is a winner for the crafters and a losing one for the farmers. I was hoping this was not going to happen in Oxford but from the looks of things I do not see encouraging things for us growers. Hopefully this will change and what I have been seeing is the strange buying patterns of Oxford's Graduation/Mother's Day weekend and in the coming weeks/months people will be coming to the farmers market to buy food
Eugene and I are lucky because we have a store here on the farm and after 2 years the locals are finding us and shopping here. Sales are up 500% so far this year. The store is not yet supporting itself but it is going in the right direction. As the industrial food system continues to fail I expect we will get a lot more business and in a couple of years will be able to quit going to the Saturday market altogether (man it will be nice not to have to get up at 4:30am in order to get to market by 7am, which we rarely do. We seem to always be late). We plan on sticking with the Tuesday market which, so far, does not have this out of whack farmer to crafter ratio problem. And since I still have a lot of influence with this market, should not for many years to come. I love going to the Tuesday market because it is so laid back and it has a wonderful mix of vendors, all of whom I like a lot. Oh and I don't have to get up at 4:30 am to get there on time.
I just may have to run for the OFMU board this fall, even though we really cannot afford the gasoline to get to Oxford for the meetings. But something has to be done to get the board away from this craft takeover of the farmers market and back in the farmers' corner. Otherwise, we growers may well lose what should be a spectacular market for us.