Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News

 

Taking locally grown up a notch...

Posted 10/24/17 (Tue)

As another farmers’ market season comes to a close across North Dakota, many of us who are vendors at these markets, wonder why more people aren’t doing it.

Farmers’ markets have grown by leaps and bounds across the state in the past 10 years, which we all appreciate. Since 2007, 42 new markets have popped up across North Dakota and many of them continue thriving.

But the obvious imbalance is in the lack of vendors. Some of the markets have just one vendor while others have as few as two or three.

There are plenty of consumers because as we all know, we have to eat.

However, what happens when markets have too few vendors is too few consumers spend money at that location.

Thus additional vendors who create variety, bring all sorts of customers to the markets.

Traditionally, farmers’ markets in North Dakota were set up to sell produce and in most cases, the original 14 markets in the state did just that.

Then somebody got the idea to bring baked goods such as breads and donuts. That worked out well and the next thing we all knew jams and jellies, salsa and cut flowers were beginning to show up.

That has helped increase the clientele, but I doubt there’s a single market in the state that would not want even more variety at their venue.

If we all sold cabbage and onions, that wouldn’t have a whole lot of appeal to customers.

But because the markets have diversified, they tend to bring new customers who are looking for specific items and while at the market, those consumers begin looking for other items.

Clearly, farmers’ markets are becoming a destination for people. For those of us who have visited the Town Square market in Grand Forks or North Prairie Farmers’ Market in Minot, there’s no doubt people are there to look for everything from leeks to lefse.

Diversification has helped these markets greatly. Following are some of the items that have been sold at these larger markets: vegetables, locally grown fruit, beef, embroidery, rugs, flowers, pottery, mushrooms,  kuchen, milk, ice cream, grains and legumes.

The market in Minot also has a food truck, a kitchen on wheels as it were, that provides full meals for the shoppers and fellow vendors.

Farmers’ markets in California, Florida, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and other states have been doing this for years and those markets have flourished.

The Davis, Calif., farmers’ market has served as a model for the rest of the nation for the past 40 years because of its diversity and in recent years, states like North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota and Missouri, have begun to catch on to this idea that is starting to pay dividends.

And that’s really why we, the vendors in North Dakota, are puzzled. When vendors bring their commodities or crafts to the market, they WILL sell them.

Whether it’s basic potatoes, colossal onions, organic garlic or gallon jars of honey, there will be customers for these items.

Some vendors are also selling in bulk because of the customer demand. A 25-pound bag of onions, 100 pounds of potatoes, 50 pounds of cabbage and up to 50 pounds of beef, have been sold to people who demand those products.

So there is no doubt North Dakota markets could use more vendors. Some people solely make a living on it, while for others such as FFA groups or seniors, it makes a great supplemental income.

As an example, a woman at the Town Square Market is earning $1,000 a week selling pies. Another vendor in Minot is selling $350-$500 in garlic every Saturday. A vendor at the Capital Farmers’ Market in Bismarck has put two kids through college with farmers’ market money and one in Hazen spends a month in Florida every year because he earns enough at markets in Hazen, Washburn and Bismarck to pay for his vacation.

So why aren’t more people doing it? We are the agricultural leader in the nation. In journalism we say everybody has a story. In agriculture, every town could have a farmers’ market.

These markets are not only potential money makers, but they are also social events. Many of the vendors are having fun every time they set up their canopy, not just with their customers, but with the other vendors as well.

It’s a destination, just like a football game or a movie theater. People want to be there, they want to visit and they want to buy locally grown and locally produced goods. What could be better?