Farmers markets in Niagara are more than just a pretty face. They attract money, build communities, and encourage the development of new businesses.
These are among the findings of a new report “What’s Growing in Niagara? Farmers’ Markets in the Niagara Region,” produced by Brock University’s Niagara Community Observatory.
Farmers markets are an economic boon to Niagara:
· Each customer spends an average of $32.06 per visit and an additional $18.44 to area businesses; larger markets can attract hundreds of customers
· 48 per cent of tourists visiting Niagara mainly for the wine industry had attended a farmers’ market or country fair, and over 20 per cent had picked fruit at a local farm
· Vendors report a loyal customer base and a chance to promote their business.
“By having farmers sell their produce directly to customers, farmers are not restricted by large minimum order volumes and other requirements that make it difficult or impossible to sell at supermarkets,” says Doug Hagar, Brock University researcher and author of the report.
“Farmers, caterers, artisans and other small business vendors are increasingly turning to farmers markets to earn a living in the midst of job loss and economic downturn in the Niagara Region,” he says.
But the markets are not just money-makers. Three out of five customers bring family and friends with them to markets and say they enjoy talking to vendors and meeting up with friends.
Many markets offer parallel activities such as concerts, cooking classes and fitness activities.
“Farmers markets are the heart of a community, providing a diverse, unique and vibrant place where people come to connect, to play and to shop,” says Jan Bechard, farmers market and event co-ordinator for the City of St. Catharines.
“We are committed to providing access to food, produce and goods that are grown, raised and made as close to home as possible,” she says.
But challenges remain in attracting youth and customers from diverse ethnic groups. Also, vendors and managers report a lack of understanding among customers about local food production, including why certain foods are not available at times and that some might be more expensive than supermarkets because of fair pricing.