Where Have All the Growers Gone?

This week,  my sister-in-law, V, and I got an email from Rachel Landis at Landisdale Farms to let us know that the farm was considering discontinuing their stand at the Piazza Farmers’ Market because profits have been continuously low.  Consequently, our weekly CSA pick-up location was doomed.

Rachel shared alternate pick-up locations, dates and times in the city.  While V and I mulled it over through email, Rachel offered to have someone drop off the CSA to my house on Saturday if they decided to discontinue.  Wow, I thought, talk about customer service.  Asking me if I’d like a big, heaping box of organic, fresh produce delivered directly to my door step is like asking me if I’d like a free trip to the Bahamas (well, almost) – yes, please!

Saturday morning, I received a courtesy call from Rachel to let me know that Riccardo was a half-hour away.  When he arrived, I thanked him profusely as he handed over the CSA full share box right outside my door step.  I asked him if they had finalized the decision to discontinue their participation at the Piazza and he told me that it was likely, that the market keeps adding vendors each week increasing competition and reducing earnings.

I remember the cold, blustery Piazza market days in January and February, the handful of dedicated growers serving a few dozen people – Landisdale Farms was one of them.  The market has grown significantly since then.  Each vendor nuzzles close to the next, local farms and growers line the perimeter of 2nd Street and Germantown Avenue; a t-shirt vendor, smoothie stand, and local jewelry maker help to flood the market square.  Shoppers, while increasing in number, are likely overwhelmed with the selection, carefully staking out best prices, quality, and selection.  Many may just be browsing after brunch at one of the many nearby restaurants.

I’m disappointed.  A grower that has helped opened my eyes to seasonal, organic produce (not to mention grass-fed beef) was soon to be absent from my Saturday shopping routine.  To add insult to injury, Piazza Farmers’ Market tweeted this week, “Unfortunately many of our great farmers at Piazza Farmers market are struggling financially.”  No kidding!  I also read at The Philly Food Feed blog that Savoie Farms is moving their stand to a “grower’s only” market.  What’s going on, Piazza?

The USDA identified this exact phenomenon in their report, “Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues,” I recently wrote about.  Oftentimes there is so much competition at farmers’ markets that it makes it difficult for smallish growers to increase profit margins and grow their market share.  But farmers’ markets are an important part of the sustainable food system equation, helping family farms stay in business, protect land and ensure consumers receive fresh food that does not travel far.

This past week’s CSA dislocation drama exemplifies the integrity of a family farm’s mission to provide nourishing, quality food.  Door-to-door service and a willingness to work with their customers to maintain their business.   There seems to be some best practices here for farmers’ markets moving forward:  market managers should spend time to ensure that their customers, the farms themselves, are happy, healthy and thriving, just as the farms strive to do for us.

Week 2: Full Share CSA

  • sugar snap peas
  • summer zucchini
  • bag of arugula
  • bag of organic lettuce mix
  • large bunch of romaine
  • 2 bunches of kale
  • strawberries
  • cherries
  • sweet onions

6 responses to “Where Have All the Growers Gone?

  1. I was at the Reading Terminal Market Farmers’ Market today and they are down to four vendors. This was after I drove by the Piazza and saw close to nobody. Turns out a couple of vendors didn’t show due to lack of help and personal reasons but it was like a ghost town. The Reading Market only had four or five vendors as well. Meanwhile the Head House market on Lombard still remains busy with vendors in the double digits. I guess there is internal and external competition. The cut-throat world of local food…who knew?

    • The Headhouse Market is a force to be reckoned with on Sundays, for sure! I was there on a Saturday a few weeks ago and there were only two or three vendors; but it will be interesting to see if other growers like Savoie migrate to that part of town. You make an excellent point– with so many markets around the city, there’s market-to-market competition as well as vendor-to-vendor. There seems to be so many variables around creating and maintaining a successful farmers’ market (that benefits farms) from both the consumer side (price perception, convenience, awareness) and market side (vendor quantity, location, operating hours), I wonder if the ‘perfect equation’ can even exist?

  2. I didn’t read the report when you published the link previously but now I feel compelled to. It just seems like there have to be additional concepts so that the local food market can thrive. One I’ve seen here is that of using shares as a fund-raiser. At my kids’ school, I can pick up a share weekly. It’s more expensive but the premium then goes to the school. It seems like there could be an equally interesting concept for non-profit kitchens. Instead of asking for a grocery sack filled with boxes and cans of processed gunk, maybe it could be organized so that they received X shares to use in their meals. Of course there will be numerous details that I’m overlooking. Thanks for raising awareness.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tammy. What a great idea to involve schools as a CSA pick-up location- I like that in addition to creating access, it creates an educational opportunity for students on eating well and nutrition. Soup kitchens are a great target for the local food movement, as well; what a difference that could make in the health of the nation. With urban agriculture on the upswing, I wonder the prospects of linking these two entities (this may already be happening)? There’s definitely a lot of work to be done to establish sustainable distribution ‘routes’ for fresh produce access in all types of settings. I’m just helping to keep up the demand 🙂

  3. Pingback: On Guidance: Sugar Snap Peas with Rosemary « Cold Cereal & Toast

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