Monday, March 26, 2012

Early Spring at Farmers' Markets

On Saturday I shopped at the opening day of the Columbia Farmers' Market outdoor market. Unlike opening days in the previous three years, there was no snow – instead it was beautiful. Sunny, warm -- and lots of great products available.  I got spinach, large green garlic, spring salad mix, green onions (large ones), and eggs.  I picked up a breakfast burrito and some cinnamon rolls to take home for breakfast. And that doesn't count the organic pork and eggs, natural beef, fresh goat cheese and lots of flowers that were featured in different booths. Amazingly 39 vendors were out with great product -- read about it here:

So what is so amazing about Saturday's experience? First, the amount of product available 3 DAYS AFTER THE OFFICIAL START OF SPRING was astounding.  Yes, we have an early spring this year but the array of products available Saturday also shows how farmers have been successfully using season extension tools like hoop houses, low tunnels, row covers and other techniques to get great product to the market early. And there is no better time to adopt some of these techniques as both NRCS and MO Department of Agriculture have funding available to help offset the cost of putting up a hoop house. Second, farmers have really upped their game in terms of marketing at the farmers’ market.  I saw booths using baskets to showcase produce, great signage with easily identifiable price lists, banners promoting the farmers’ name and brand, and wonderful use of sampling of products to entice customers to buy. 

And finally it was great to see so many beginning farmers set up at the market! Dan and Laura Pugh were there with produce and eggs – and already sold out of eggs by the time I wandered through about two hours into the market.  Bluebell Farm from Fayette was using a great mix of marketing techniques – everything from a creative display of for-sale note cards featuring photos of their farms to accepting credit cards with an ingenious smart phone app -- to showcase their farm products.  (For more information on using credit cards at farmers’ markets see this story from a Virginia farmer and this story in Growing for Market

And yes – I’m crossing my fingers that we don’t get any frost that kills this amazing bounty!

n  Posted by Mary Hendrickson

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