Wednesday, June 8, 2011

To Market, To Market

Saturday morning is the hallowed time of farmers markets for small family farms from coast to coast, and Brightwood Vineyard and Farm is no exception.

Usually I go help Susan at the Charlottesville Farmers Market, which is down in (can you guess?) Charlottesville. But this weekend was different - I went to the Madison Farmers Market, a mere five miles away from the farm, to help Autumn set up.

The Madison Farmers Market started just three years ago, and judging by the jump in sales this year, it's really starting to take off. According to Dean and Susan, it was rare to break $100 at that location in the past. Not too hard to imagine why... it's a small market in a rural area, where lots of people grow their own food and there's not a lot of attention paid to eating local, organic fare. However, this year the market has been pulling in around $175 or more regularly... and, quite often, more.

Autumn has more or less taken the Madison Farmers Market on as her project. She has quite an impressive background in management and food services (coffee, specifically), so I don't know how much of the jump is due to her enthusiasm and marketing savvy, and how much is due to the market's growing prominence in the area. It's probably a bit of both.

One of the nice things about having two such different markets - one small and rural, one large and urban - is that the shoppers at those markets are interested in very different things, and we can allocate our different products accordingly. Vegetables do very well in Madison, for example, so if we only have a few bunches of radishes, Madison gets them. On the other hand, few people in Madison are willing to pay $5 a carton for eggs, so the lion's share of those go to Charlottesville. Folks in Charlottesville go absolutely mad for herbs, but in Madison? Not so much.

Perhaps most importantly, the Madison Farmers Market is a valuable venue for being involved in the local community. It's not only a way for the farm to get to know its customers, but to also meet other local farms and develop connections with them.

After all, isn't that supposed to be the point? We want consumers to be engaged with their food, to know where it comes from and to question it. ("Hello, I was just wondering if you feed your cows chicken blood?")

We want people to invest money in their own communities, not send it to remote corporations in NYC, LA, or across the ocean. And the more consumers visit small, local farmers markets and buy food from small, local farmers, the closer we inch to taking back our food, our power and our lives.

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