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County farmers markets growing in popularity

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Kristen Daily bags groceries at Daily Farm Market, Monday, April 7, 2014.
Kristen Daily bags groceries at Daily Farm Market, Monday, April 7, 2014.

Area farmers who once approached farmers markets as a folksy pastime are now using business school concepts to identify potential customers and market to their preferences.

Farmers market vendors now target customers who want to know the source where their food originated, said Columbus Farmers Market chairwoman Becky Church.

“There’s an interest of people wanting to stay local with all of their food from meats to vegetables … to support the local economy,” she said.

Since 2000, the number of farmers markets in the United States has grown from 2,863 markets in 2000 to more than 7,800 in 2012 according to the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit group Farmers Market Coalition.

The public’s interest in farmers markets isn’t a fad, said associate professor of horticulture and agriculture economics at Purdue University Jennifer Dennis.

“Lots of consumers are just interested in where their food comes from,” she said. “A lot of people are interested in making healthy choices.”

The Columbus Farmers Market was started by Columbus in Bloom in 2008, growing from a couple dozen vendors to more than 82.

Church said the market is fully booked for for this season. She hopes when the market kicks off on June 7, the weekly visitor total will double from 3,000 in 2013 to at least 6,000 this year.

The Columbus Farmer’s Market is one of three in the area, sharing with the Columbus City Farmer’s Market and a Cummins Inc. farmers market set up in Cummins parking lots for their employees only.

“I think it’s more than a trend,” she said. “Farmers markets in Indiana have been growing at twice the rate of the national average.”

Dennis is a presenter at a “boot camp” series in Indianapolis about farmers markets. The boot camp focuses on the business aspect of the markets, educating vendors about health regulations, increasing customer loyalty through marketing and finding new product ideas.

“Any business needs to understand their consumer, know their target market and understand how to be creative,” she said.

Just being a vendor at a farmers market is a marketing strategy.

Jim Daily, owner of Daily Farm Market on Jonathan Moore Pike, said he’s a farmers market vendor because its effective advertising for his business.

Someone who is getting started in the farmers market business and doing all the work themselves could have a hard time getting started, Daily said. The labor and upfront cost that is associated starting a garden or farm is extensive, Daily said.

Doug Whipker, who has a market at his family farm on U.S. 31, said participating in the Columbus Farmer’s Market has helped his business.

Whipker raises vegetables and grows flowers. Selling at the farmers market expands his customer base.

“We were pretty pleased with the results that we had,” he said.

Determining how much economic impact farmers markets have is difficult — the Columbus Farmers Market doesn’t survey or have the means to measure how much market sales add to the Columbus economy, Church said.

Nick Ellis, who helps run the Madison (Ind.) Farmers Market, said he started using a survey created by New Orleans-based non-profit group

The data is useful to have when sharing business models and looking into any grant funding available for farmers markets either from cities for the state, Ellis said.

“I think people would really be surprised if (farmers market) data was quantified, but it’s just not,” he said. “I wanted to do the study to get these numbers because that’s the way business is done.”

The survey was used as a tool to track who was shopping at the market, where they came from, what they were shopping for and how much they spent.

The Madison Farmers Market, which opens in April and runs through October, has 20 to 25 vendors every Saturday and pumps roughly $700,000 in to the local economy annually, Ellis said.

Church said she hopes to have a system in place soon that tracks the economic impact the local market has on the city.

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