Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Rural farmers' markets struggle to adapt to changing consumer needs, but can stay relevant

Farmers market in Bridgeport, W.Va. (Gazette-Mail photo)
Despite a boom in farmers' markets and a movement to buy local and healthier foods, rural merchants are struggling to constantly adapt to changing consumer habits to stay relevant, Max Garland reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Farmers Market Directory, there are 8,676 farmers' markets in the U.S., up from 1,755 in 1994. West Virginia has 90.

"Even with the growing number of markets, profit and success isn’t guaranteed, especially in rural areas of West Virginia where resources are limited," Garland writes, citing Parween Mascari, executive director of the West Virginia Farmers Market Association. Mascari told him, “The trend is definitely there, but in rural communities, there are some struggles. It takes some dedication and creative methods to keep them going on a weekly basis.”

Roane County, West Virginia, has found some success in reviving its farmers' market this year, largely because the county does not have a local grocery store, Garland notes. But continued expansion by Kroger, coupled with its recent move to add online ordering, might hurt rural areas, said Faye Looney, an organizer of the market and treasurer of Walton Community Building in Roane County. “I think the trend (of rural farmers markets) is dying,” she told Garland. “But if we don’t do it, what else is there to help the community? Right now it’s still really about trying to get the word out.”

Other rural farmers' markets have added entertainment options to draw customers, Garland reports. For example, the market in Bridgeport, W.Va., has added live music and "the market’s POP (power of produce) Club, which has children interact with vendors and learn about their produce." But the selling point is still fresh food from 50 vendors. Debbie Workman, a member of the market’s board of directors, told Garland, "The goal is to promote healthy food, but in order to do that, we have to bring more people in."

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