Have Bay Area farmers’ markets reached a saturation point? That’s the gist of “Farmers Burn Out on Markets,” an article in Wednesday’s San Francisco Chronicle. According to the Chron, several high-profile farms have either cut short their market season or pulled out of farmers’ markets altogether, citing lower prices, lower sales, higher fees, and too many farmers selling the same items. Then there are the long hours. What with the commute and the set-up and break-down times, market day may run 12 to 14 hours. As the sign on Terra Firma’s empty stall at Berkeley’s Saturday market put it:
Sales have gone down as the number of produce sellers has increased and the diversity of items on everyone’s tables has increased. This is great for shoppers but makes life rough for us.
“The basic model, in my opinion, is a broken model,” Terra Firma’s Paul Underhill is quoted as saying in the article. And John Lagier of Lagier Ranches, which participates in four Bay Area farmers’ markets, agrees: “There are just so many farmers’ markets now. That model of marketing is diluted, so we don’t have the same profitability.”
As farmers’ markets continue to boom nationwide, saturation may become a bigger problem. But for now, most farms get a lot out of participating in them. As Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm tells the Chron, “[I]t keeps us in touch with the community of people who support the local food movement. I think it’s a really important part of our business.”