Well, I can’t give an answer worthy of GQ, but I will speculate. There is a farmers’ market near me that my wife and I go to regularly. It operates 365 days a year (it might be closed on a few holidays), getting smaller and being enclosed between Nov. and March and with satelite stores selling foods. I see the same merchants there every time I go during the summer. I have bought corn from the same guy for probably 30 years and he comes every day during August and part of September.
I suspect that the prices we pay are several times what the supermarkets will pay them, if indeed they can even sell their produce to the markets who use giant wholesale companies. Not everything sold in this market is locally produced, but most of it is. And it does tend to be fresh (the corn certainly is). But the farmers who sell there are certainly making a living out of it. They are not hobby farmers.
The stallholders on our local (weekly) market fall into to broad categories. There are ‘proper’ farmers with a good product (meat/cheese/veggies), and allotment holders, who might be described as hobbyists. If you don’t know about allotments, they are small plots, roughly 250sq m where anyone can grow anything (legal) that they want. If you grow vegetable, you do tend to get very little, or far too much; so allotment holders go to these markets to sell off the extra. Some are borderline on the ‘not for profit’ rule.
They are more expensive than supermarkets, but not “several times”. For example, brussels sprouts, freshly picked, were £1.00 a kilo at the market, while Tesco were selling pre-packaged ones at 80p a kilo.
Friends of ours have a small farm/orchard as well as a farm store. They attend a farmer’s market every Sunday for a few hours, mostly for the exposure. It’s an hour drive to the site, and they are happy breaking even, money wise. They’ve met restauranteurs with whom they have worked out agreements (restaurant buys produce, farm agrees to allow menu claims).
My mom sells crafts at farmers’ markets. For her, it’s very firmly in the hobby category: She usually brings in more than her fees, but it’s only profitable if you assign little or no value to her time spent making the things. The fee structure varies from market to market: Some charge a flat fee (sometimes as much as $200, though she doesn’t go to any that are that expensive), while others charge a percentage of your sales (anywhere from 5% to 50%). Since her sales can vary wildly from week to week, she much prefers the percentage ones, because there she’s at least assured of not losing money in a bad week.
It’s probably different for those selling produce. With crafts, once someone has the tote bag they want, they’re probably not going to buy any more tote bags. But you can and probably will sell fresh vegetables to the same customer every week. So the produce-sellers can probably plan for their week-to-week sales with more consistency.
Edinburgh has at least three one day markets at the weekend (so there are 2 markets on in different parts of the city competing with each other on one day at least.
And as far as I know there’s a waiting list of prospective stall-holders wanting to attend.
Some of them have been doing specific markets weekly for years and if it didn’t pay, I’m sure they’d either stop doing it altogether, or find another, better market to attend. Selling direct cuts out the middleman (apart from the site fee), allows for fairly competitive pricing and still leaves a profit, I’m sure.
I sometimes see them packing up at the end of the afternoon and they usually have much less to take away than they arrived with!
The farmer’s markets around Chicago, during growing season, are staggered throughout the city and take place in a different neighborhood every day. Many of the same farmers have a booth at every market every day. Some booths they man themselves, and some they have paid staff/family helping. The markets I go to, the fruits/veggies were picked that morning. Most markets also accept LINK cards and also give LINK customers kind-for-kind value on what they spend, so they get $20 worth of stuff for $10. There are winter markets, too, but fewer and less often.
I once went thru the Farmer’s Market in downtown Minneapolis early in the morning, as they were unloading & setting up along the Nicollet Mall. I noticed one older Vietnamese lady taking out a commercial wholesale crate of strawberries – I recognized it because my previous assignment had been at a wholesale grocery company, one of the 3 biggest in the country, and I had been flying around to their warehouses all over the country.
She proceeded to take the strawberries out of that crate, and put them into an assortment of mismatched plastic mesh baskets. She then took out a water spray bottle and lightly dampened some of them, and then pulled out a pail of dirt and sprinkled a bit of it over the baskets.
No sign saying locally home-grown, but they sure looked like that – but they came from the same warehouse that supplied local supermarkets.
For an immigrant from a communist country, she seemed to have learned capitalistic market practices quite well!
Best strawberries I ever had were in Brittany. We were staying in my father’s flat in Guilvinec and had been told to get down to the market early to get the best produce. We were there at about 8am and it was in full swing by then.
The elderly strawberry seller was up a side street (cheaper pitch?) with the strawberries on some upturned boxes. There was a queue and we bought a couple of the few punnets he had left. He told us that he grew them himself and had been up at 4am to pick them and I believe him.
I grew up in a farm community and some of you probably just don’t “get” the farming life. To farmers it’s just a natural thing to keep busy and do something to make a little extra profit. They sell tons of grain, corn, beans, eggs and various meats to wholesalers every year and the margins are actually pretty small. What they sell at the farmers market is extra in their eyes and thus returns a 80-90% profit. Beats sitting at home which has no return value or going shopping themselves. Plus a lot of work is done by the kids, who work for cheap and get a life lesson in being a farmer. These kids meet other farm kids at these markets and other events like fairs and 4H and they end up marrying each other, so it help perpetuate the lifestyle.
I grew up on a farm and can agree 100% with Si Amigo. My father raised a few “exotic” type things, like we had a few emu, and llamas (one year an ostrich) and those would be real sellers. But not real profit makers.
A kicked load is when a place like Walmart gets a truck full of bananas let say, the dock worker does an inspection on the quality, if it’s not up to their standards or not what they ordered they tell the driver to bring it back wherever it came from. The price then is reduced heavily sometimes 90% off wholesale because at that point there is no money left to be made, shipping ate the margins and the produce is not of standard quality.