I don’t find talking about myself very interesting. I’d rather talk about the farmers and food artisans I work with. I am the market manager for 3 farmers markets. If I had to state in 25 words or less what I do I would say “I make markets.” I love being able to connect growers and consumers with as few middle men as possible. And I get lots of samples for making that happen.
Good article. But there are quite a few markets open year-round in Oregon. Hillsdale Farmers’ Market (the one I manage), People’s Co-op, Lloyd, and Oregon City have been year-round for a few years. Hollywood and Portland went to a year-round schedule this year. Corvallis has a winter indoor market as does Salem. Check the Oregon Farmers Markets Association, http://oregonfarmersmarkets.org for more information.
My youngest son likes the movie and the dish “Ratatouille”. After we saw the movie last year, he asked me if I could make ratatouille like Remy did in the movie. I said “sure” and promptly forgot about it. When zucchini and tomatoes started showing up in farmers markets a few weeks ago, he asked me again. I debated whether or not to wait for eggplant to come in and decided not to. So here is my attempt. I want to try it again with eggplant but this version came out pretty well.
On Tuesday, five potato farmers rang the bell of the New York Stock Exchange, kicking off a marketing campaign that is trying to position the nation’s best-selling brand of potato chips as local food. - Kim Severson, NY Times May 12, 2009
The audacity and ingenuity of the marketing teams at the multinational food corporations is amazing. Frito-Lay has decided that pushing the local farmer angle will help them sell more chips. While I admire their desire to use the notion “know where your food is from” to sell more chips, I think the company misses the larger point driving the buy local movement.
The Buy Local movement started in fresh foods (produce, eggs, meats, fish etc.) and remains strongest in those food categories. To use a shopping notion from Michael Pollan, buy local works best on the perimeter of the grocery store. Once you move into the the center, the notion weakens. If a buy local preference is carried into the center aisles at all, it will be with local and regional brands. Kettle Chips comes to mind in Oregon for example.
The big food corporations have spent the last 50 years nationalizing prepared food products. These companies have competed on primarily on price for a long time. Trying to add a value component, “local”, to the marketing message is dicey. The local label is not like the organic label. Consumers looking for local are not the same consumers looking for organic although both share a fair number of consumers. The people looking for local products want to support agriculture with a human face. They want to know who the farmer is, what he or she does to bring that product to market. Frito Lay is not going to be able to make that kind of connection to the consumer.
JudithK asked in her latest blog post if the current economic state “will cause the type of lasting generational changes of the Great Depression.” I don’t know if people are eating down their pantry but it looks like people are stocking the pantry differently.
From my perspective as a farmers market manager,eating and food buying habits were already shifting when the recession started. The economic climate has merely accelerated the change. Since I manage markets year-round, I am able to watch what people buy nearly every week. There is nothing more price sensitive and more competitive than food. Prices can change within a single market session and buying patterns within a few weeks. By May 2008, I was already noticing a shift in buying habits. Vendors selling the basics like produce, meats, breads, cheeses were seeing little variation in sales week to week. In fact, sales were much stronger than the same week a year before. Prepared foods on the other hand, were starting to see fluctuations in sales week to week. In mid-June, there was a noticeable decrease in sales for most prepared foods while the basics were selling at about the same rate. Most prepared foods were experiencing flat sales or a drop from the previous year too.
I had a hunch that the prepared food sales were payday dependent so I started asking regular customers when they were paid. Sure enough, prepared foods sales went down between pay periods. By July, I had figured out when most people were getting paid. Most of the prepared food vendors that I worked with changed their production accordingly and were able to minimize their shrink (food not sold at the end of the market). Most vendors were able to stay in business but I wondered what the winter was going to be like.
Since the fall, the shift has been more dramatic. Fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs and to a lesser extent seafood have been selling extremely well. Several farms have been selling at a rate comparable to summer markets despite winter customer counts being about one third of the summer counts. It’s really an amazing thing to see a fully stocked produce stall empty out in under an hour and need to be completely restocked. Certain prepared foods continue to sell well particularly breads, jams, coffee beans and dessert items. Basically, things that can’t be easily made at home or might be considered a cheap thrill.
I’ve only talked to a few shoppers but they’ve all said that they were making changes. By and large, the changes were something they had thought about for a while and the economic downturn pushed them to make the change. Is the change permanent? I don’t know for sure but the people I’ve talked to are enjoying the change and are happy with the food they are buying. It should be an interesting summer.
The NY Times finally got around to writing an article about winter season farmers markets (see article). The Greenmarkets in NYC have quite a few year-round markets scattered in the five boroughs. The two markets in the article are located in Westchester County (Briarcliff Manor and Mamaroneck). I am really excited to see winter markets expand beyond the urban core and move into the outlying communities. Everyone wins. The communities can buy locally year-round and the farmers have a winter income.
The markets, run by Community Markets, appear to have a nice product selection. (The high tunnels mentioned in the article are undoubtedly big help for the farmers. It can get really cold in the Hudson River Valley.) I really like the fact that these markets are agricultural markets (no crafts). Focusing on locally grown, raised, and produced foods is so important. The message gets muddled when markets stray beyond farms, foods and nurseries.
The belief that there is nothing to sell is a myth. Here in Portland, there is more than enough product, both in variety and producers, to run a market or multiple markets. I have turned away as many farmers, ranchers and food producers as I can accommodate at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. Winter salad mixes, squash, root vegetables, kale, chard, spinach, arugula, radicchio, meats, eggs, fish, cheeses, breads - the product mix is more than ample. And the educated consumer knows this too. The crowds at the market around 10:30 are nearly as big in February as they are in June.
It takes a while to overcome perceptions about what can or can’t be done. But as more markets like the ones in Westchester open up, another myth goes away. And our eating habits are all the better for it.
We weren’t expecting to have a snowy market but we did. Turned out to be a good day anyway. Nearly every vendor came and we had a nice crowd. Here’s a photo from about 9:30am.
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