A Sunday morning at Noosa Farmers’ Market, Queensland – cooking demonstrations connect and enlighten market-goers.
IN 2005 the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) published a report called ‘New Generation’ Farmers’ Markets in Rural Australia. In 2014 RIRDC published another report called Understanding the Characteristics of Australian Farmers’ Markets.
The 2005 report acknowledged the business, social, health and economic benefits of farmers’ markets. It said there were 70 markets in Australia, but by that stage there were already 3,500 farmers’ markets in the USA and 450 in the UK.
It noted environmental benefits from reducing food-miles, health benefits from access to fresh food in rural areas, and social and economic benefits (especially) for small farmers by providing a direct route to market and because of the business incubation possibilities of farmers’ markets. It suggested that there were benefits to producers and to customers by avoiding transport costs, agents’ fees and retailer markups such that both vendor and customer could do better from direct selling.
It also noted a variety of business models for management of the market itself, including volunteer and community run markets, privately-owned markets and local government organized markets. Furthermore, farmers’ markets could contribute to awareness of healthy food choices, seasonality of produce and pride in support for local communities and local employment.
Another advantage of farmers’ market for sellers was the low cost of investment to participate. The 2005 report also mentioned some limiting factors for market vendors, including regulations (particularly for sale of meat) and availability of undercover sites.
The 2014 report nominated the following advantages of farmers markets for the various participants
- A reliable, profitable direct consumer market link, particularly for new and emerging businesses where products are still being tested and developed
- A positive environment to learn and improve the business through connecting with consumers. Food businesses (particularly small and new food businesses)
- An opportunity to innovate and present, test and improve food products.
- A reliable low-risk environment where businesses can grow at their own pace.
- A connection with people who could provide other direct market options and other similar businesses.
- Access to fresh, local and seasonal food sourced directly from the food producer.
- Exposure to a variety of foods and the opportunity to learn about how the food was produced and made and how to use it.
- Ability to support the local farmers and food businesses and the environment.
- Ability to achieve important community outcomes – health, education, tourism, social wellbeing and regional economy.
- Encourage local leadership and commitment to supporting local people.
Seven per cent of stallholders surveyed used farmers’ markets as the only way to sell their produce and 25 per cent sold 75 per cent or more of their produce through farmers’ markets. Vendors reported using a range of distribution channels as well as markets, especially local shops and restaurants and the food service sector.
Both reports cited competition between farmers’ markets, therefore the second report suggested that it was better to grow the market share of individual markets within a particular region rather than the number of farmers’ markets.
Market managers were asked what maximum distance stallholders travelled to participate in their farmers’ market: 43 per cent reported travel distances more than 100 kilometres, 28 per cent between 51 and 100 kilometres, 18 per cent between 21 and 50 kilometres, and 10 per cent less than 20 kilometres.
The managers estimated maximum distance customers travelled to participate in their farmers’ market. 24 per cent suggested between 51 and 100 kilometres and 14 per cent thought their customers travelled more than 100 kilometres (allowing for about three per cent of customers who were tourists).
The 2015 report did not attempt to quantify the number of farmers’ markets in Australia, but it did cite a 2012 report by Er, Binks, and Ecker, called Social and economic dimensions of farmers’ markets in Australia, in Australian Food Statistics 2010-11, that was aware of 152 farmers’ markets, with 68 of these in Victoria.
Although various state-based market associations list markets on their websites, clarifying the actual number is difficult because they mainly only count affiliated markets, and because the final number is dependent on whether we apply a strict or less strict definition of what constitutes a farmers’ market.
Approaches by Acres to various state associations and farmers’ markets managers revealed a lack of reliable statistics on market attendance and the total consumer spend at farmers’ markets.
Individual markets do attempt to count visitors, but the reliability of their numbers is extremely variable. One market we visited made hourly counts of numbers present, but it is unclear how that relates to individual visitors. Many markets have too many entry points to make total visitor counts practical, and many do not even try to record numbers.
Coburg and Alphington markets in Victoria estimate around 1,800 visitors every week based on direct counting and calculates from the gold coin entry fee. Collingwood market receives between 3,500 and 5,000 depending on the weather.
A recent investigation commissioned by the State Government of Victoria did make some attempt to more directly quantify the economic value of farmers’ markets, but the results were not available at the time of publication of Acres.
Kate Archdeacon from the VFMA said that there is some evidence that the ‘per customer’ spend at Victorian markets is about $70 per visitor.
Kate Raymond from the Farmers Market Alliance of NSW indicated that her association will try to obtain data on visitors and total spend at farmers’ markets and is in discussion with the major American market association about methodologies to collect information. According to Raymond, customer surveys are commonly used, but direct financial reporting by stallholders is probably more reliable.
Getting full participation in statistical collection from vendors remains problematic, when state associations are at various stages in achieving vendor participation in accreditation schemes, and clearly trader sensitivity concerning potential levies and business confidentiality.
– TIM MARSHALL