Did you know there are 27 farmers’ markets in the First State? Many are opening this weekend, including the Western Sussex Farmer’s Market in Seaford. They’re popping up everywhere! So, have you visited one yet? If not, you might be missing out on what has become the nucleus of most downtown’s thriving economies. Last year, with only 16 markets, sales totaled $1.8 million. It’s like having your good old corner store, with a produce section, in walking distance of your favorite coffee shop, restaurant, bank, and bakery shops. I bet there’s one near you, with 12 new locations opening this summer. Check out the Department of Agriculture’s directory for locations and times.
But believe it or not, the idea is not new. Many markets such as Lewes and Milford began over ten years ago. I’ve had the pleasure to participate in several through my work with my parent’s business, Little Wagon Produce. I got the call to help my Mom in downtown Milford five years ago, as she could no longer handle the volume by herself. In 2001, she began to transport fresh produce to Milford every Saturday morning. It took years for her to establish the LWP name in Milford and I’m proud to witness and learn from it. The work and time required has not been easy. In order to build this market over a decade, Mom had to be:
- dependable– this means you have to show up every week of the market. It allows customer’s to rely on you and what you offer. This is hard for small farmers who do not grow large volumes.
- communicative– you have to take the time to talk and listen to the customers to find out what they like, need, and want! Then you have to follow thru and either provide it or help them find it!
- educative– you have to take the time to help customers understand what you grow and what you do to get it to the market every week (planting, picking, packing, refrigerating, loading, fuel for transporting, labor, etc).
- collaborative– you have to support the market by working together with fellow vendors. Each week Mom makes a round to buy from other vendors and we love to send customers to other vendors. For example, we send customers to co-vendor Tracy Riley of Houston Country Gardens when they ask for perennial flowers, since we only grow annuals, and she does the same for us.
- and embedded in the community– it helps to know customers by name, where they work, and what happened last week in the news. We do not live in Milford, but we make it a priority to frequent its businesses and events often.
The best part about farmers’ markets is getting to know our customers. He or she could be the town mayor, a local school teacher, or a retired grandparent. They then go out into the community and tell everyone to go downtown for the “awesome sweet corn” from Little Wagon. Word of mouth truly is a small business’s best advertisement.
Personally, the market has afforded me many opportunities. I feel embedded in the Milford community myself. I have met several people I now consider friends, such as the local postmaster (he likes to hug me), a local news reporter (she likes to talk about running), and a fellow co-worker’s dad (he likes to pick on me and calls me “corn-girl”). I love to be outside and I admit, its great exercise, too. Do you know how hard it is to pack and unpack two box trucks?!! It’s also my way of staying involved in the family farming business. I love to help customers understand the seasonality of produce and how to pick it. It’s great to be able to spend time with my family. Not only do I get to learn from Mom but I also get to see my grandfather, Pop-Pop Bob. He doesn’t like to miss a Saturday and gets several hugs and kisses from customers. I also have a good friend, Wendy, that shares my love for the market and comes every week to help us. My younger sister, Amber, has recently joined in on the weekly ritual as well.
I plan to continue writing about farmer’s market activity throughout the summer. But I can’t end this post without saying thank you to all of our farmer markets’ customers. We appreciate your time and business and I hope my family can continue to serve local communities with fresh, local food for a reasonable price. In today’s world, I truly believe we take our easy access to food for granted.