Study: Farmers market phonies upset some, but not all, shoppers

09/26/2012 12:01:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

Shoppers at farmers markets may assume that the vendors grew the crop they're selling.

But that's not necessarily the case, especially since the number of farmers markets has quadrupled since 1994, according to a news release.

Some vendors buy out-of-state produce at terminal markets or other wholesale outlets to sell at farmers markets.

When shoppers learn the truth, some may feel outraged that they were duped while others are indifferent, depending on their goals for shopping the market, according to a study.

By knowing what consumers wants, farmers market managers may be able to keep both populations happy.

Among the options are requiring vendors to label where the produce was grown, barring non-local food or restricting it to certain parts of the market.

Mickie Swisher, an associate professor with the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, led a group that surveyed more than 120 shoppers at farmers markets in three different Florida population centers—a major metropolitan area, a medium-sized city and a small town.

They asked shoppers about their expectations for the food sold at the market.

The results showed that a large percentage believed much of the food was grown locally, harvested promptly, organic and sold by the growers themselves.

They were then asked if they'd continue to shop at the market if they found out that an item they bought didnt' meet their expectations.

If the item was less fresh than expected, about 75 percent said they would continue patronizing the market. If it wasn't organic, 66 percent would continue.

If the item was not grown by the vendor, 62 percent would return, and if it wasn't local, only 53 percent would vist the market again.

Using other data analysis, the researchers identified the shoppers who were most likely to stop patronizing a market that offered non-local food—they were the shoppers who believed it was important to buy local or thought a farmers market was better than shopping at a supermarket.

“Farmers markets have come a long way in the past few decades, and I think there’s a lot of potential if we don’t spoil it,” she said in the release. “The farmers markets that are well-run and aboveboard will get the lion’s share of the business.”

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