This project is funded by a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Expanding Produce Sales through Farmers’ Market Aggregation
Jan Joannides, Renewing the Countryside
Many farmers have the capacity to grow more fruits and vegetables than they can sell to individual customers at farmers’ markets. This is evident by the amount of produce farmers often have at the end of the farmers’ market. This project will help farmers’ markets to develop new income streams for their vendors by facilitating sales to a broader pool of buyers, including institutions and retailers in their community.
Renewing the Countryside, in partnership with the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association (MFMA) and the Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) will implement this project, building on an innovative program that was piloted at the Wabasha County Farmers’ Market in 2016.
This project will build the capacity of market managers to make connections with institutional and wholesale buyers, including restaurants and retailers, which will lead to expanded sales for farmers. Eight farmers’ market managers and their vendors in MN; with associated buyers, regulators, and advocates; will understand regulations and operations for aggregation and sale of produce by farmers’ markets. A functional ordering/billing system will be developed. A comprehensive model of operations transferrable to other markets will be created, tested, compiled into a guidebook, and made available statewide. The concept of wholesale aggregation and sales of produce by farmers’ markets will become normalized, and produce production and sales will increase in the state.
Institutions and other buyers increasingly want to provide local food to their customers as indicated in the 2015 Farm to School Census and a survey of MN rural grocers.
At the same time, small farmers struggle to expand their markets. While farmers’ markets provide a good outlet for sales, most farmers have excess produce at the end of market. Others would grow more produce if they had ready markets.
The needs and requirements don’t line up nicely. Small producers can’t supply enough to larger buyers.
Buyers don’t have the time or expertise to set up efficient systems to source local product.
What is needed is an aggregator that can pool enough local produce to supply wholesale buyers. Food hubs are one example, but most require significant capital investments for infrastructure and operating expenses.
Aggregation by a farmers’ market is an efficient and inexpensive approach to address these challenges and requires limited infrastructure and staff.