Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Farmers markets more popular in urban areas, but rural communities still have opportunities

by Robert Thomas, Information Specialist, Univeristy of Missouri

While farmers markets may be more popular and viable in urban areas, rural communities still have opportunities to create successful local food systems, according to a newly published study.

The study, appearing in the journal Southern Rural Sociology, looked at six Illinois communities to understand their acceptance of farmers markets.

“We found that consumers value locally grown food despite location, but seek it out through different channels,” said Sarah Hultine, University of Missouri Extension community development specialist and a co-author of the study. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach. It requires creativity in developing local markets that build on current shopping behaviors of consumers.”

The researchers studied four rural and two urban markets. Only one of the four rural communities had what the researchers considered a vibrant farmers market.

In urban farmers markets, success often comes because markets provide a public space for consumers to interact with farmers and other consumers while buying fresh, high-quality produce, Hultine said.

Rural consumers, however, may not need the same sort of public space for community interaction and will focus more on buying food from individual local farmers they know and trust.

The one successful rural farmers market studied was Metamora, which focused on connecting with other downtown businesses, including local restaurants and a museum.

Farmers in rural Fairbury worked with a local grocery store to create an in-store venue for their produce, resulting in several thousand dollars in sales in each of the past four years.

“This market for locally grown food serves as a successful example of the alternative markets rural communities can create beyond a traditional farmers market,” said Hultine. The study shows that local food systems are more successful when they address the needs of the whole community and take into account existing shopping behaviors and consumption decisions within the community.

Mary Hendrickson, a rural sociologist with MU Extension, said the findings of the study can be relevant in the development of new farmers markets in Missouri.

Missouri has seen strong growth in farmers markets, with almost 140 markets now across the state.

To be successful, those organizing farmers markets must involve a wide range of individuals, organizations and businesses to make use of existing talents and community resources, Hendrickson said.

Anyone interested in starting a farmers market can consult the recently released MU Extension publication, “Starting and Operating a Farmers Market,” at http://extension.missouri.edu/explore/agguides/hort/g06223.htm .

The article from Southern Rural Sociology, “Produce Sections, Town Squares, and Farm Stands: Comparing Local Food Systems in Community Context,” is available online at http://www.ag.auburn.edu/auxiliary/srsa/pages/Articles/SRS%202008%2023%201%2047-71.pdf

Source: Sarah Hultine, 573-729-3196; Mary Hendrickson, 573- 882-7463

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