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Retailers Forming Fruitful Ties With Farmers' Markets

Retailers Forming Fruitful Ties With Farmers' Markets

When Whole Foods announced its plans to open a three-story, 50,000-square-foot store in Manhattan's Union Square, many of the city's chefs, along with lots of regional farmers, fretted about the future of the farmers' market that had been setting up shop in the park across the street for almost three decades.

But in the 2½ years since the Whole Foods location opened its doors, the Greenmarket has grown and the store has thrived. In fact, Union Square's reputation as a foodie destination was further enhanced when Trader Joe's opened its first New York City store nearby in 2006.

Although New York's population density — as well as the Greenmarket's decades-long history — make this a very unique case study, the area's new personality is a testament to how well farmers' markets can complement supermarkets under the right conditions.

For example, in this week's Fresh Market, Roseanne Harper talks with David Skogen, owner of La Crosse, Wis.-based Skogen's Festival Markets, who has large weekend farmers' markets operating in the parking lots of 10 of his 12 stores.

It's certainly not the only way that retailers are working with local growers lately, but simply giving farmers a place to get together and set up shop is one of the easiest and most effective ways to offer shoppers local food. And, according to Skogen, it's been good for business.

Asked if the outdoor markets have hurt produce sales inside the store, he said, “absolutely not. Just the opposite … It builds store traffic, goodwill and good relationships with the farmers and with our customers.”

As prior coverage in SN and SN Whole Health has noted, shoppers are drawn to local foods for a variety of reasons, ranging from perception of freshness, to a desire to support their local community and concern about the environment.

What's surprising, though, is how quickly the “localvore” movement has been shifting among those with environmental concerns. Earlier this summer, the Soil Association, the United Kingdom's largest organic certifier, said it was considering barring the organic label from any products imported by air freight — despite the devastating impact the move could have on emerging economies in Africa.

In the U.S., several of the movement's most ardent supporters have experimented with living exclusively on foods grown or raised within 100 miles of their home. Others have simply bought shares in local farms through Community Supported Agriculture programs, or tried their hand at edible landscaping — making a statement to neighbors and passers-by that food-bearing plants, shrubs and herbs don't have to be restricted to backyard gardens.

The vanguards of the movement may sound a little unusual, but in many ways, their concerns and their shopping habits resemble those of the earliest adopters of organics. Given the intricacies of modern, conventional agriculture, food processing and distribution, it's tough to imagine this local foods movement building to a similar scale as organics. But as terms like “food miles” move into the mainstream, a growing number of shoppers are likely to be impressed by the opportunity to meet the person who grew the food they're buying.