We attended our first farmers' market of the season today (as vendors) and featured our heirloom tomato plants. The peppers are a bit too young at this time - and it is too early to sell them anyway. We had a little bit of asparagus and lettuce, some dried spices, a few dozen eggs. A decent spread for May. And, for a cool, windy morning, a decent turnout with good sales for us.
A bit of background. We have been doing farmers' markets for the last four years. This year, the plan is to only do markets during the plant sale part of the season. Otherwise, our produce will be distributed through the CSA and other direct sales. If we have bumper crops, we may find ourselves at Saturday markets again - we'll see.
We were reminded, once again, what the realities were that caused us to make this decision. But, first, let me just say that we DO enjoy the contact with people who have interest in local foods and products. We like to educate, answer questions and provide product to people at the market and we enjoy the other vendors there. There will certainly be times we miss it. But, we simply could not continue to try to do CSA AND market AND other sales agreements. There just isn't enough of us to go around.
CSA and other sales are not necessarily complete 'walks in the park' as far as effort is concerned either. Each has their own idiosyncrasies. But, it is difficult to do all of them - so we moved to remove markets.
Farmers' markets (that we attend) typically last three hours from open to close. Usually, a stand works best if you have two people staffing the tables when you have a decent amount of product to sell. It is wise, if you can manage it, to be set up at least 15 minutes prior to open (not that we usually manage this) and you typically should not look to anxious to close at the end of market - just in case there are a few more customers that would like to peruse your wares. Add in travel time and you have an average of five hours driving to, unloading, setting up, staffing, tearing down, loading up and driving from...
Sounds like a light work day, doesn't it?
Oh, did we forget to tell you about loading up the truck at the farm and unloading it once your return from market? And, there's always cleanup of used containers, coolers, etc after the unloading. And a little bit of bookkeeping always has to happen as well.
And, lest you forget - there is the preparation FOR market that happens before loading up. Last night we were printing labels and signs around 10:30 pm and R was out putting a shelf together to haul plants in the truck at 6 am while T was picking lettuce this morning.
No sympathy required or needed here. But, empathy isn't a bad thing. Remember how hard your local market vendors work in order to bring you fresh, local foods and crafts - regardless of which markets you attend. I suppose there is a range of work ethic in this area, just as there is in any other occupation. But, as far as we can tell - everyone who does this sort of thing has to accomplish a bare minimum of effort that still takes some time and effort.
One way you can support persons who do this is to put in a little effort on your part to make sure you GO to your farmers' markets and patronize your local producers REGULARLY. Ask questions. Show interest. If these folks can dig 50 foot rows of carrots, sort them out, wash them and bundle them - then bring them to market and display them - then surely you can take 15 minutes and stop by the market once a week.
Or, of course, you can join a CSA and get produce weekly in that fashion. Either way, the loyalty and increased certainty that product will be moved can only serve to increase the quantities and qualities of food available to you.
All this in 15 minutes a week. Wow.