When you get the idea of a farmers’ market in your head you think of local growers, producers, and craft makers coming together in a public location to offer their wares directly to their communities. But the farmers’ markets themselves are not always what they appear.
To be clear, most items sold at farmers’ markets are of excellent quality and made by people who either create their products out of passion or are looking to the venues in an effort to bring a new product to market. The latter is a lifeline to the Mom and Pop shops that are just starting out. But profit-minded groups, organizations, and even municipalities are transforming the traditional farmers’ markets into profit-driven entities in and of themselves.
Around the country, local farmers’ markets are increasingly charging the “vendors” – those who create and cart their wares to these markets – large fees to “rent space.” The more prestigious the location, the higher the fee. Then there are the locations who exclude vendors who apply in an effort to “diversify” the marketplace. The latter lends itself to favoritism and politics.
While most vendors at farmers’ markets are covered under the local Cottage Industry Laws (laws that protect the Mom and Pop shops from the crushing requirements and regulations of a licensed business), many of the markets with higher priced vendors fees also require the vendor to carry insurance, sometimes up to $1 million worth, just to participate.
Whether the issue is profiteering or favoritism, today’s farmers’ markets are not what they were even ten years ago.
So, when you do decide to get your fresh products from a local farmers’ market, please do some research into what kind of operation it is: Do they gauge their vendors? Are certain vendors being excluded? Does the venue require unreasonable levels of prerequisites that make it impossible for a small shop to participate?
This is not to say that all farmers’ markets are run for profit or notoriety. Many still honor the original concept of what a farmers’ market is supposed to be. One of those happens every other week in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Others, just like theirs – that keeps vendors’ fees to a minimum (to cover public safety and utilities) – are dotted all across the country. We should all support those efforts over those of the profiteers.
In the end, it is important to support our local merchants and small businesses. And farmers’ markets are a great way to support local small business owners and those just starting out. But let’s “nudge” the farmers’ markets back to their roots and expunge the profiteering and favoritism; the exclusion.
Doing this gives the Mom and Pop shops, the local small businesses and those just starting out a fighting chance.